BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - Geno Auriemma hasn’t lost too many NCAA tournament games in the state of Connecticut.
The Hall of Fame coach was hard pressed to remember a harder regional than the one his Huskies will face this weekend in Bridgeport. UConn opens up in the semifinals against Maryland on Saturday.
“There are four great teams, lots of marquee names, lots of interesting side stories, and that leads to a great environment,” said Auriemma, whose team has won 41 of its past 42 NCAA games in the state.
UConn’s lone blemish came against Duke in 2006 in the regional final. That game was also played in Bridgeport.
“I think this is one of the more difficult first-round games of the regionals. And the other game, yeah, you got really good players on every team,” Auriemma said. “I’m sure every region has got their own, but I don’t know that anyone has more than what exists here. Kentucky’s back again and Maryland’s in again.”
The Huskies have already played the Terrapins earlier this season, beating Maryland by 15 points in the Jimmy V Classic in December. Two-time ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas had just six points in that game. UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis played five minutes before suffering a concussion. She’s completely healthy now.
“With her in the game, it’s going to make it a lot more difficult for them to defend us and make our offense run a little bit smoother,” said UConn center Stefanie Dolson, who practiced sparingly this past week while resting stress injuries in her right ankle and left foot.
No team left playing has been plagued by injuries more than Maryland. The Terps lost three players this season to ACL injuries, including the expected starting backcourt. It hasn’t mattered as players have stepped up, including Thomas. The junior guard has averaged 28.5 points in the NCAA tournament so far.
“She thrives on a competitive stage,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “The bigger stage, the bigger the moment, she wants to be a part of it and thrives to excel.”
Frese opted for a different mode to get to Connecticut having her team ride the train up from Maryland.
“We felt like it would be a tremendous experience for a lot of our players,” Frese said. “I asked them and over three quarters of them had never taken the train. To give them that experience through basketball was a phenomenal opportunity and one we really enjoyed together.”
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