UConn Women Return To NCAA Tournament As Top Seed In Rebuilding Year

STORRS, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — UConn’s players heard all the talk. Following four straight national championships, this would be a rebuilding season.

After Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck went 1-3 in the WNBA draft, even coach Geno Auriemma suggested this year’s Huskies could lose six games during a tough non-conference schedule.

Instead, UConn (32-0) enters the NCAA Tournament undefeated for the eighth time, on a 107-game winning streak and as the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.

“I think the chip on our shoulder helped,” said guard Katie Lou Samuelson. “We always heard how we lost Stewie, Tuck and Mo. We heard about that every single day and that kind of motivated us and pushed us forward.”

UConn will host the first two rounds on campus, about 80 miles north of the regional site in Bridgeport.

The Huskies face 16th-seed Albany (21-11), the champions of the America East conference, in the opening round. No. 9 Duke, No. 4 Maryland and No. 15 UCLA, are the region’s other top seeds.

Despite recent success, Auriemma still worries about how this group, most of whom did not play a big role a year ago, will handle the pressure of tournament games against that kind of competition.

“How will this team react in a big, big, big situation, when it’s their first time facing elimination?” Auriemma said. “Now, everything is riding on them. But it’s been like that all year, so maybe they’ve gotten accustomed to it.”

Meanwhile, Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee was looking on the bright side of having to face the dominant UConn dynasty.

“I think the silver lining is that if you are going to play a first-round game, and you’re us, why not be on the biggest stage?” she told the Albany Times Union.

Some other things to watch for in the Bridgeport Regional:

TITLE GAME REMATCH

UConn beat Syracuse in last year’s national championship game. If the schools meet again in this year’s NCAA Tournament, it will be on the Huskies’ home court.

Syracuse (21-10) will head to Storrs as an eighth seed. The Orange have a first-round matchup against Iowa State (18-12), with a chance for a title-game rematch in the second round.

“For us, it’s a big opportunity,” said Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman. “We were in the Big East, so we know what it’s like to play in Storrs.”

SURPRISE SEEDING

Duke (27-5) comes into the tournament ranked No. 9. Maryland (30-2) comes in ranked No. 4.

But the Blue Devils received the second seed and Maryland was given a somewhat surprising third seed.

Maryland won the Big Ten title but was hurt by its strength of schedule.

“At this point, it really doesn’t matter,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. “You put your head down and you’re given the bracket that you have. And this is the next opportunity. And this is what we’ve been working so hard for in our season is to be the most prepared team coming into the tournament.”

Duke will host 15th-seeded Hampton (20-12). The Blue Devils are led, coincidently, by guard Lexie Brown, who transferred from Maryland.

The Terps host 14th-seeded Bucknell (27-5) in the first round. The winner will face either West Virginia (23-10) or Elon (27-6) in Round 2.

GOING EAST

The Bridgeport Region includes five teams from west of the Mississippi — UCLA, Boise State, Texas A&M, Iowa State and Oregon.

The fourth-seeded Bruins (23-8) host No. 13-seed Boise State (25-7), the Mountain West champions, in the first round.

Fifth-seeded Texas A&M (21-11) also plays in Los Angeles against Ivy League champion Penn (22-7). Oregon, the 10th seed, heads cross-country for a first-round game against Temple in Durham, North Carolina.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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