By JOHN ALTAVILLA, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
6:16 PM EST, November 8, 2013
STORRS — This is Geno Auriemma's 29th season as UConn's coach. Among other things, it meant Friday was the 29th time he's gone to bed before an opener. Some things never change in the Land of Steady Habits.
Auriemma says his level of sleep in these critical hours has generally depended on the control he's felt about what was coming next.
In the early days, there was a lot of tossing and turning.
"I had a hard time sleeping before any game," Auriemma said. "There were things going on that I thought I controlled which turned out I had no control at all over. I would worry about everything."
But you know the rest; eight national titles means you don't fret so much anymore.
"I've learned over 29 years that there are just some things you can't control," Auriemma said. That's helped me prepare better for game day."
When UConn opens its championship defense Saturday against Hartford at the XL Center, Auriemma will arrive refreshed and mostly relaxed about his chances of being on time for nine — or whatever colloquialism stokes the motivational ember between here and Nashville, site of the Final Four.
"We're going to win a certain number of games this season," Auriemma said. "What that number is, I don't know yet."
Chances are, No. 1 will come against the Hawks, ranked second in the America East preseason poll. If Auriemma's preseason has been restful, Jen Rizzotti's has been rather fitful.
Hartford's coach has already taken two major shots to the midsection. Sophomore forward Katie Roth, the team's top post, tore an ACL in a first-round WNIT loss to Harvard last March. Just a few weeks ago, she injured it and will miss the season.
Sophomore guard Mallory Shickora, who tore her ACL in last season's game at Vanderbilt in just her third game, tore the same ligament on the first day she had been medically cleared to return. She is out for the season, too.
Roth averaged 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds.
Hartford (21-12 in 2012-13) is led by senior guard Amber Bepko, who averaged 10 points and had a team-high 58 steals last season. The Hawks advanced to the America East championship game for the eighth time and lost to Albany.
After Hartford, UConn jumps right into it with games against Stanford (Monday at Gampel Pavilion) and at Maryland and Penn State next Friday and Sunday.
"Four games in seven days. That's not easy, not the way you want to [start the season]. But the easy answer is, 'We know we we're going to be good,'" Auriemma said. "But, I'd like to see where we are first with this group. ... A week from Sunday, we'll have a pretty good idea. … We can learn a lot about ourselves very quickly."
The Huskies return all but 545 points from a team that scored 3,218 (82.5) to win the title. Auriemma also said his defense will be sound, perhaps even great, which is always his expectation.
And what he brings to the play site includes three All-Americans (seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley and junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) and one in the making, sophomore Breanna Stewart, the most outstanding player of the 2013 Final Four who joins Mosqueda-Lewis on the Associated Press preseason All-America team.
The departure of Kelly Faris, the first-round pick of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, and Caroline Doty leaves UConn's backcourt somewhat vulnerable. Sophomore Moriah Jefferson, returning from an ankle sprain, Brianna Banks, returning from an ACL injury, and freshman Saniya Chong are now in charge of the ball.
"I want to see what happens if we struggle a little [in the backcourt]," Auriemma said. "Now you've got Moriah running around; I'd like to see her struggle in a big game and really struggle. You put Saniya in there. Bria Hartley is really under the gun. Brianna Banks hasn't played in a year. I'm anxious to see how they handle the adversity that I hope we have."
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