STORRS, Conn. – After cashing in during a whirlwind weekend in Las Vegas, the Idaho women’s basketball team has taken a much longer trip to a house which will be virtually impossible to beat.
The WAC tournament champion Vandals make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985 today at 10:30 a.m. (PDT) against No. 3-ranked Connecticut (29-4), the seven-time national champions, on ESPN2.
The odds don’t get longer in Vegas. The Huskies, the top seed in the Bridgeport Region, have won 19 straight NCAA first-round games by an average of 42 points.
That didn’t seem to faze UI coach Jon Newlee, sophomore guard Stacey Barr or junior forward Alyssa Charlston, who were all smiles in Friday’s press conference and promised an all-out 40-minute effort today.
Newlee, who starts three freshmen alongside Charlston and Barr, sees the game as a reward for winning for the WAC title and a building block for success this year and next. Newlee was disappointed the NCAA didn’t keep the Vandals in the West, where families, friends and fans would have had a much better opportunity to see them in person.
“What I want (the players) to take away from it is the fact that they are here and have won their conference, which was our goal all year,” said Newlee, who took Idaho State to the NCAA tournament in 2007. “This is their reward for all the hard work and all the practices and time they have put into this year. I want them to enjoy every minute. I tell them to embrace the moment because a lot of people don’t get that chance.”
Idaho (17-15) is making just its third trip to the Eastern time zone in program history. The 2,750 miles between Moscow and Storrs is about 500 miles longer than the Vandals had to travel for their game at Louisiana Tech. This trip was easier – the Vandals took a nonstop charter flight to the East Coast and avoided a long bus ride that is a feature of some of their WAC trips.
Barr, the WAC tourney MVP who had 16 points to lead UI in the title game upset of Seattle, has journeyed halfway around the world for this tipoff. Charlston says the Vandals feed off the Australian’s drive.
“Stacey is going be diving all over the floor, going for everything, taking charges,” Charlston said. “We’ve got a lot of hustle players.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma was characteristically blunt about the matchup on his weekly radio show, one of the many indicators of the program’s statewide popularity.
“Upsets happen when the better team doesn’t play up to its potential,” he said. “And we don’t intend for that to happen.”