UConn to begin Big East Tournament in Hartford
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 23:03
For the UConn women’s basketball team, March hasn’t exactly come in like a lion.
A loss in South Bend to No. 2 Notre Dame on Monday has left them without a share of the Big East regular season crown. But this weekend they have the chance to add some more conference tournament hardware to their trophy case.
And, if everything goes as planned, it could mean another shot at the Fighting Irish.
“We were ready to go the second that buzzer rang,” senior guard Kelly Faris said of the possibility of seeing Notre Dame again. “When you lose to a team, the second the game’s over you’re ready to go again and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this, this and this differently,’ and that’s just the competitiveness of this game and of these two teams and of these two programs.”
But before they can get there, they have two other opponents to take care of first.
The third-ranked Huskies – who have a double-bye in the conference tournament – will face Pittsburgh, Marquette or DePaul when they finally play on Sunday. If they get past them, a possible showdown with either Syracuse or Villanova looms on Monday.
Then, if Notre Dame can take care of business on their side of the bracket, the two teams will face off for the third time this season on Tuesday night.
“Obviously tiredness,” junior center Stefanie Dolson said about the challenges of possibly playing three games in three days. “It is tough sometimes to play three games in three days – just because it’s the postseason; everyone is working as hard as they possibly can. You’re definitely tired and mentally exhausted sometimes, but I think us older guys have got to do a good job of kind of bringing the younger guys with us and making sure that everyone’s 100 percent all the time.”
The fact that the younger players on the UConn roster are so important to this team’s success heading forward, and the fact that they could potentially need to be called upon in big situations makes Coach Geno Auriemma a little uneasy.
Despite having three of the top five recruits from this freshmen class in Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson on his squad, Auriemma said that relying on young players to perform in the big moments can be a difficult proposition.
“You never know how they’re going to react,” Auriemma said. “Like, [sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis] responded great last year – she was MVP of the tournament. So, I’m hoping that one or two of those young guys can put together that kind of run over the weekend.”
Though Dolson says she knows the pressure on the freshmen, and the entire team, to perform will ratchet up in the do-or-die format of the postseason, she feels the younger players in the team are in a good position to succeed heading into the weekend.
Help and advice about playing in a postseason environment from her and other veterans on the squad has been helpful in their preparations, and she is eager to get tournament play underway.
“I think tournament time and just the postseason in general is everyone’s favorite,” Dolson said. “You go out and if you lose, you’re done. So it just definitely kind of raises the competitiveness of everyone – every team you see. No matter what ranking you are or whatever happened in the regular season, you know both teams are going to come out fighting.”
One player the Huskies will be sure to keep an eye on this weekend is Faris, who sprained a few ligaments in her left foot just before halftime on Monday against Notre Dame.
Though Geno Auriemma was fairly certain she would play, he wouldn’t give a definite answer on her status for UConn’s tournament opener on Sunday.
For the Huskies, losing Faris – who was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year and shared the honors of conference Most Improved – for any length of time would be a crushing blow. Reduced minutes, especially early on in the tournament, could be a good possibility as they look to keep her healthy for the duration of the postseason.
UConn’s tournament-opener on Sunday is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be aired on the Big East Network. Should they continue to advance, they would play at 8 p.m. Monday on ESPNU and 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN. Every game during the tournament will be played at the XL Center in Hartford.