NEW YORK – Breanna Stewart made it her goal to win four titles in her career at UConn. Now she and her Huskies are six wins away from accomplishing that unprecedented feat.
“Honestly, I don’t feel that much pressure,” Stewart said. “The pressure was more last year or my sophomore season, just because I needed those to finish this one. Now, it’s just this is it. This is my last try.”
The Huskies haven’t really talked about the history they could make over the next three weeks.
“They know obviously that this is an opportunity for them to win the fourth national championship. They know that,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “And they’ve known it since the first time we met at half court there for the first day of practice. The only other time it has been mentioned is in passing when they do something stupid and I say, `Teams that are trying to do something great, they don’t do that stuff, not in March.”
UConn’s road to a fourth straight national championship will begin at home.
The Huskies were the top overall seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament that was revealed Monday night. UConn (32-0) won’t have to leave the state until the Final Four in Indianapolis. The Huskies are in the Bridgeport Regional.
Joining the Huskies as the other No. 1 seeds are South Carolina, Notre Dame and Baylor. UConn has already beaten the Gamecocks and Irish this season. The Huskies would face Baylor on April 3 in the national semifinals if both teams advance that far.
Both UConn and Tennessee won three straight women’s titles, but no women’s team has four consecutive championships. The UCLA men’s team won seven in a row. A title this year would give Auriemma 11 in his career, breaking a tie with vaunted UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden.
First up for the Huskies, who have been a No. 1 seed for 10 straight years, is 16-seed Robert Morris. The Colonials won the NEC championship.
The top four seeds in each region will host the opening two rounds except for No. 4 Michigan State, which has a conflict so fifth-seed Mississippi State will take over as the host.
Tennessee earned a No. 7 seed, the lowest in school history. The Lady Vols, who have played in every NCAA Tournament, will face Green Bay in the opening round at Arizona State.
“Is it where we usually are? No, but it’s a great spot for us to go to work,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
While Tennessee has to head west, fourth-seeded Stanford could be heading east. Tara VanDerveer’s team hosts former player Jennifer Azzi and her San Francisco Bay Area program in the opening round. If they can advance to the Sweet 16, the Cardinal will play in Kentucky. The third-seeded Wildcats won’t have to leave the area until the Final Four. They host the opening two rounds and then would play in Rupp Arena for the regional.
“For our team to work hard enough and be able to earn a top-16 seed and host in Memorial Coliseum is great,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “So they had to earn that and I am grateful the committee put us in Lexington. We are going to have to really work hard to get a victory in the first round, but the prospects to get to play in Lexington for the Sweet 16 is exciting.”
Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina are three of nine SEC teams to make the field. That ties the Big East (2011) for the most ever in the women’s tournament.
Other notables from the bracket:
Two-bid Ivy League: Days after announcing the first Ivy League postseason tournament, the league earned the first at-large bid for either a men’s or women’s team with Princeton earning an 11-seed. The Tigers, who will face West Virginia, lost to Penn twice during the regular season – their only conference blemishes.
“I’m bursting with pride for my team and for this great University. Princeton just became the first team in Ivy League history to earn an at-large bid,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said. “That’s something that will mean so much to me for forever. As an Ivy League alum, I share in the significance of this day with the many great scholar-athletes and coaches that are a part of this special league.”
Penn is a 10-seed and will face Washington in the opening round.
Newcomers: Duquesne headlined five first-time NCAA Tournament teams. The ninth-seeded Dukes are the only at-large team of the group and open up against Seton Hall. Other newcomers include Buffalo, Central Arkansas, Iona and Jacksonville.
Goodbye Tobacco Roard: For the first time since 1988, Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State all missed the tournament. The Blue Devils, who had been in the tournament the past 21 years, were on the bubble to get in.
Left out: Iowa, N.C. State, Ohio and UTEP were the first four teams left out of the field according to the NCAA. While Princeton, Missouri, Purdue and St. Bonaventure were the final four in.
“I think the toughest decision with the first four out was that there was a large group of teams looking a lot alike,” NCAA women’s basketball committee chair Chris Dawson said. “Each team had their own merits. Through our vetting and voting process we came up with the last four I mentioned.”
Double duty: There are 24 programs that have both their men’s and women’s teams in the bracket including top-seeds UConn, Notre Dame and Baylor.
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