There is little doubt that Stanford and Connecticut have developed one of the top rivalries in women’s basketball.
The teams have played five times in the last three seasons with three of those meetings coming in the Final Four. UConn beat Stanford for the 2010 national championship and the Cardinal ended the Huskies’ NCAA record 90-game winning streak last December.
A lot less will be at stake when the fourth-ranked Huskies host the No. 5 Cardinal on Monday night in Hartford.
“For the most part this is a new year,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We have a very competitive, positive rivalry. That might prove to throw something on the fire, an extra log on the fire, but the fire’s burning big already.”
This is the earliest these two powerhouses have met on the schedule and, with both teams featuring many new faces, it will be a chance to see where they stand against a top opponent.
“It feels a lot different to me,” VanDerveer said. “Really, when you’re playing at the end of December you’re at least 10 games into your schedule. It just feels like an early round of a fight. It does not have the same feel, but it’s a very big game. It’ll be a very exciting game. I think we’re developing a great rivalry.”
The Huskies have another streak at stake as they have won an NCAA record 85 straight home games, including 41 in a row at the XL Center. The last time UConn lost at home was in the 2007 Big East championship game to Rutgers. The NCAA counts the Huskies’ postseason games played in Storrs and Hartford as home games.
“Maybe it’ll end tomorrow just like the other streak ended,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’ll end. It’s not going to last forever. I’m not going to win every game for the rest of my coaching career at home.”
Auriemma and his players are downplaying any thought of this being a payback game for the last year’s streak-ending loss.
“I really don’t get into that kind of stuff,” he said. “We couldn’t beat them with Maya (Moore) on our team. How are we going to beat them without her? So there’s no point in talking about the revenge.”
“I’ve always thought that that was kind of an off way to go about things because if we win tomorrow night do they give us back the one they beat us and keep that streak alive? That one’s gone. It’s gone. It’s over with. It’s done. It’s a whole new one. That whole other stuff that just gets in the way of what you’ve got to do.”
UConn returns four starters from last season’s team that fell in the Final Four to Notre Dame. The Huskies (2-0) have a really talented freshmen class led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and have been playing a run-and-gun style with four guards on the floor at the same time.
Stanford lost its starting backcourt from last season’s team that fell in the Final Four to Texas A&M. The Cardinal still have the Ogwumike sisters giving them a potent inside game.
“This matchup has become one of the best in women’s basketball over the last few years and we always look forward to playing Connecticut,” said Stanford preseason All-America Nnemkadi Ogwumike. “It’s fun for us and I think it’s fun for them and it’s very fun for the fans when Connecticut and Stanford get together.”
Monday’s game will cap an exciting week of women’s basketball with many marquee matchups. Third-ranked Tennessee beat No. 7 Miami while sixth-ranked Texas A&M topped No. 9 Louisville on Tuesday. No. 1 Baylor beat second-ranked Notre Dame on Sunday.
“Most of the top teams in the women’s side really like to challenge themselves with a good schedule early in the season,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Those teams play so many different types of teams early. You really have a chance to evaluate your team. I’ll definitely be watching Monday night.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.