UConn-Duke women will add to their colorful history in Sweet 16 Saturday

Mar. 29—PORTLAND, Ore. — One of the more memorable meetings between UConn and Duke came on Feb. 2, 2003, with UConn traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Durham, North Carolina, campus decorated with Gothic architecture.

The Duke fans, after deciding that UConn star Diana Taurasi — with her hair in a signature bun — looked like Princess Leia of Star Wars fame, began serenading her. "Prin-cess Le-ia! (clap, clap, clap-clap).

Second-ranked UConn beat No. 1 Duke 77-65, after which Taurasi made a makeshift telephone receiver with her thumb and pinky finger, put it to her ear and mouthed two words to the Cameron Crazies. "Call me."

Not to say that Saturday's women's basketball game will be all of that — another place, another time — but here go the one-time colorful rivals once again, this time with the season on the line.

No. 3 UConn (31-5) meets No. 7 Duke (22-11) in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Moda Center in the Portland Regional 3. The winner will play Monday against either No. 1 USC or No. 5 Baylor for a berth in the Final Four.

"Yeah, it's been so long since we've been down there," Auriemma said Friday afternoon. "We always had some great, great matchups with them, when Gail Goestenkors (Duke coach from 1992-2007) was there, when Joanne (McCallie, Duke coach from 2007-20) was there.

"They were always one of the best teams in the country. It was always a great place to go play. Yeah, there's great memories of us and Duke playing some great, great games."

Among the current storylines, Duke upset Ohio State, the No. 2 seed, 75-63 Sunday, to reach the Sweet 16, overcoming a 16-point deficit. Reigan Richardson had 28 points for the Blue Devils, making her the first Duke player since Alana Beard (2000-04) to register back-to-back NCAA games of 25 or more points.

UConn, meanwhile, has returned to the juncture where its season ended a year ago in Seattle, falling to Ohio State in the Sweet 16 by a margin of 73-61, committing 25 turnovers against a suffocating Buckeyes press.

The Huskies defeated No. 14 Jackson State (86-64) and No. 6 Syracuse (72-64) at home last weekend to reach their 30th straight regional.

Auriemma said that UConn, despite losing six players for the season due to injuries, has a different mindset entering this particular Sweet 16, mainly due to the addition of All-American Paige Bueckers. Bueckers missed all of last season due to a knee injury.

Bueckers, a 6-foot guard, rolling since the beginning of the Big East tournament with five straight games featuring 27 or more points, had 28 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals against Jackson State and 32 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals against Syracuse.

"We don't seem to be as mentally or physically worn out like we were last year at this time," Auriemma said. "I think having Paige makes us a little more confident than maybe we were last year at this time. It doesn't feel the same."

UConn has won 10 straight meetings against Duke, most recently at last season's Phil Knight Legacy tournament, also in Portland.

It will be the fourth NCAA tournament meeting with UConn leading 2-1, but Duke owns the latest bragging rights in that series, beating UConn 63-61 in overtime in the Elite Eight in Bridgeport during the 2006 tournament to advance to the Final Four in Boston.

This year's Duke team, in its fourth season under head coach Kara Lawson, is playing in the regional for the first time since 2017-18. The Blue Devils finished 11-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, falling to NC State 54-51 in the quarterfinals of the league tournament.

Duke has the second-best strength of schedule in the nation, having faced 12 opponents in the Top 25.

"I think for our group to be able to go on the road and win a game like we did on Sunday, obviously we're a lower-seeded team. Being able to get a young team to be able to focus and lock in and be able to win that type of game, I think that, more than anything, was valuable and is something that kind of accelerates growth," Lawson said of the Ohio State victory.

Duke is led by Richardson with 12.4 points per game. The Blue Devils average 68.9 points per game, while holding opponents to 58.0 per game. Lawson's team starts two sophomores and a freshman.

"I think defensively they're very aggressive," Auriemma said. "They can force you to play at their pace, at their tempo, the way they want to play. "Their youth, I think, serves them well. They're just free and clear."

No. 3 UConn vs. No. 7 Duke

Location: Moda Center

Tip: 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Records: Duke 22-11, UConn 31-5.

Last game: Duke beat No. 2 Ohio State in the NCAA tournament second round, 75-63, Sunday; UConn beat No. 6 Syracuse in the NCAA tournament second round, 72-64, Monday.

Last game's starters: Duke, 5-11 G Reigan Richardson (12.4 ppg, 1.6 apg, 1.0 spg), 6-0 G Ashlon Jackson (9.3 ppg, 2.7 apg), 5-9 G Taina Mair (9.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 1.5 spg), 6-6 C Kennedy Brown (8.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 bpg), 6-0 G-F Jadyn Donovan (6.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.2 bpg).

UConn, 6-3 F Aaliyah Edwards (17.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg), 5-9 G KK Arnold (8.8 ppg, 3.1 apg, 2.2 spg), 6-0 G Paige Bueckers (21.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.2 spg), 5-11 G Nika Muhl (6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.1 spg), 5-10 G Ashlynn Shade (11.7 ppg, 1.5 apg).

Noteworthy: UConn and Duke, both ranked in the top five in the nation in terms of strength of schedule, have six common opponents. Both teams lost to South Carolina and Notre Dame and have wins against Syracuse and North Carolina. UConn defeated Louisville (86-62), while Duke lost to the Cardinals (61-44). Duke beat N.C. State (69-58) with UConn losing to the Wolfpack (92-81). "I think more than common opponents, you look for stylistically maybe teams that do similar things that you do to see how they play against (UConn)," Duke coach Kara Lawson said. "I haven't watched every game where there's a common opponent or anything like that. I think that probably just speaks to that they play a lot of hard teams and we play a lot of hard teams. From the looks of the schedule, we both try to challenge ourselves in nonconference, play some of the top teams. I know for us, that's a big reason why we're here." UConn coach Geno Auriemma echoed Lawson's thoughts about the common opponents not being a perfect indicator, especially with the styles of playing being so different. UConn averages 80.7 points per game while Duke averages 68.9. "We may have played the same opponents, but that doesn't mean that the opponents played them the same way they played us," Auriemma said. "All you can do is go by what their strengths and weaknesses are. They show up over a period of three or four months." ... Duke has beaten Richmond (72-61) and Ohio State (75-63) so far in the NCAA tournament, traveling to Columbus, Ohio. UConn has ousted Jackson State (86-64) and Syracuse (72-64) playing at home at Gampel Pavilion. ... The Moda Center, which holds 19,393 spectators for basketball, is the NBA home of the Portland Trail Blazers. ... With two NCAA tournament regionals being held at each site (Portland and Albany, New York), there are four teams in Portland not in UConn's bracket: Stanford, N.C. State, Gonzaga and Texas. There will be one regional final held Sunday at the Moda Center, followed by the Portland Regional 3 final at 9 p.m. Monday. ... Lawson, in her fourth season, was an assistant coach with the NBA's Boston Celtics in 2020, the first female coach in the organization in its storied 73-year history. Lawson, a Tennessee grad, played for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun from 2010-13. ... Duke is the only school with two teams, men's amd women's basketball, in the Sweet 16 while also having a bowl victory in football. The Blue Devils beat Troy in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 23.

— Vickie Fulkerson