After a home loss to Notre Dame last season, UConn coach Geno Auriemma began to rethink his preseason predictions. Auriemma thought his team was the best in the country, but there was doubt in his mind.
"Sometime in January and parts of February, I just started to question that. I started to figure maybe it's not our time," Auriemma said. "I just had a lot of thoughts running through my mind and I know the players did too."
There were plenty of reasons to support that theory.
Brittney Griner and Baylor looked unbeatable at times, and if the Huskies wanted to meet them in the national championship game, they would have to get by a Notre Dame squad that had already beaten them three times during the season. To top it off, UConn was an extremely young team, with three freshmen leading the way.
But Auriemma was happy to prove himself wrong.
Not only did Baylor lose in the Sweet 16, the Huskies easily beat Notre Dame in the semifinals and crushed Louisville in the championship game. The 93-60 victory over Louisville marked Auriemma's eighth national title, tying him with Tennessee legend Pat Summitt.
With the 33-point victory - the largest margin in national championship history - the Huskies made a big statement. If they could win a championship with freshman Breanna Stewart leading the way, they would be around for years to come.
"Breanna is a mature kid in some ways. I think what she did last year in the tournament is what she came to college to do," Auriemma said. "Maybe it happened a little sooner than she thought it might, but I don't think she is surprised of the fact that she's the (most outstanding player) of the Final Four, because I think that was her goal at some point during her four years at Connecticut."
Getting the next ring, however, will not be easy.
Duke, which lost in the Elite Eight last season, finished with a 33-3 record and returns its top seven scorers.
"I feel really good about this team. I think this team is hungry and learned a lot of lessons in the past," Duke coach Joanne McCallie said. "But we're still forming, so we'll just have to see what we create. It's got nothing to do with the past -- it's got everything to do with what we do now."
The present should be just as good as the past for the Blue Devils. Elizabeth Williams, who averaged 15.2 points per game last season, should contend for ACC Player of the Year. Chelsea Gray also returns to improve upon last year's 12.6 points per game after recovering from a knee injury.
Gray's offensive production is worth noting. Had she not dislocated her right knee in late February, it could have been the Blue Devils cutting down the nets last year.
Fortunately for Gray and her teammates, they now have another shot.
Won't play the role of underdog this year.
All the key contributors return for title run.
Brittany Boyd has to lead this team.
4. Notre Dame
Skylar Diggins is gone, but their next six scorers are back.
Chiney Ogwumike might be the best player in the country.
Best freshman in the country in Mercedes Russell.
Nine of top ten scorers are back.
Look to follow up on their run to the title game.
Won a title before Griner was there, can win one now.
Alyssa Thomas is the two-time ACC Player of the Year.
Four of the top five scorers return from 28-3 team.
Were upset on their home court at the NCAA Tournament.
13. South Carolina
Outside chance to emerge as the best team in loaded SEC.
14. Penn State
Maggie Lucas looks to improve upon her 20.1 points per game.
Taelor Karr looks to step up as leader.
Mocs went 29-4 last season, beat Tennessee.
K.K. Houser hopes to fill gap with loss of Drey Mingo and Sam Ostarello.
18. Iowa State
Return All-Big 12 first-team Hallie Christofferson.
Lose top two scorers from last season but will still compete.
First NCAA Tournament win in 21 years last season.
21. Texas A&M
Kelsey Bone has a chance to be All-America.
22. Green Bay
Phoenix are 180 games over .500 since 2006-2007
Thea Lemberger needs to step up after heavy losses.
Theresa Plaisance averaged 17 points per game last season.
Eight of top nine scorers returning from 30-3 squad.
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