UConn Women's Path To National Title Begins With Prairie View

Looming later in UConn's bracket are teams and scorers like Duke and Tricia Liston, left, Texas A&M and Courtney Walker, center, and Nebraska and Jordan Hooper.

STORRS – Since UConn wrapped up the American Athletic Conference championship on March 10, the Huskies have been doing their own thing at their own pace.

Preparing for the NCAA Tournament is something the Huskies are obviously quite familiar with. And the only complication now seems to be Stefanie Dolson's head cold.

"And it wasn't a bad one," Dolson said.

The only confusing part of this postseason was trying to decipher where the NCAA Tournament selection committee would place UConn. The mystery is solved. The No. 1 Huskies (34-0) have been assigned to the Lincoln, Neb., regional and will open defense of their national championship against No. 16 Prairie View (14-17) on Sunday at Gampel Pavilion at 8 p.m.

"You don't assume anything when you go into these things," Geno Auriemma said. "I felt all along we'd end up in Lincoln. And as it turns out, it's probably the right choice. I thought the committee did a pretty good job. I never understood the talk that we might go to Louisville. I don't know where that came from."

But for Auriemma, the big issue is always the path to what would be a ninth national title. And for UConn, it involves a possible Elite Eight game against No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Texas A&M or No. 4 Nebraska.

UConn has already defeated Duke (27-6) this season, winning by 22 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 17. The Blue Devils have not defeated UConn since 2006, a string of seven straight defeats.

Since then, the Blue Devils have lost their starting backcourt, Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones, to injuries. Notre Dame defeated Duke 69-53 to win the ACC tournament last week.

The Huskies defeated Texas A&M in 2011 and 2012 by margins of 30 and 31 points. They haven't played Nebraska since 1997.

"Every [region] has good teams in it," Auriemma said. "Some people may be surprised we got Duke as a No. 2, but if you look at how well they played despite the injuries, maybe they deserve it."

Neither Auriemma nor Louisville coach Jeff Walz wanted UConn in Kentucky for obvious reasons; the Huskies have already handed the Cardinals three of their four losses and a fourth game would most certainly have prevented Louisville from reaching the their second straight Final Four.

It turned out the committee thought along the same lines, ignoring an unofficial provision, agreed to by the coaches, that the No. 1 seed should be sent to the regional site closest to its home.

For UConn, that would have been Louisville. The Cardinals were given a No. 3 seed behind No. 1 Tennessee and West Virginia. Unbeaten Notre Dame and South Carolina are the other No. 1 seeds.

"It's getting towards the end of the season now," Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It is getting more special now. We're playing very well as a team right now. Everyone as a collective is contributing."

Prairie View made it to the tournament by sweeping through the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.

LaReahn Washington and Jeanette Jackson combined for 42 points in the 63-58 upset of Texas Southern in the title game Saturday. Jackson had 22 points, including four free throws in the final 30 seconds to clinch the team's fourth straight conference title and sixth NCAA appearance.

However, they began the season less auspiciously, losing their first 11 games and did not win their first game until Jan. 6. The Lady Panthers are shooting just 35.8 percent from the field and 29.5 on three pointers and have 61 more turnovers than assists.

The programs also played in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the Huskies winning, 83-47.

UConn's likely second game will be against the winner of No. 8 Georgia and No. 9 St. Joseph's. That will be played March 25 at Gampel.

St. Joseph's (22-9) will be making its second consecutive NCAA appearance at Gampel Pavilion. It was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Georgia (20-11) lost in the semifinals of the SEC tournament to South Carolina.

The Huskies, a No. 1 seed for the eighth straight season, have not played St. Joseph's since Dec. 21, 2003. The last time they played Georgia was in the Sweet 16 in Bridgeport on March 26, 2006.

The Huskies, on a 40-game winning streak dating to the beginning of last year's NCAA first-round win over Idaho, have used the time during the AAC tournament to tighten things that didn't look very loose to begin with.

"It's all a balance between how much Coach feels he needs to run us and how much he wants to make sure we have fresh legs," Dolson said.

UConn blew open its semifinal games against Rutgers and Louisville with first-half performances Auriemma called the best of the season.

"We have great momentum on our side now coming out of the tournament," Dolson said.