It’s the holiday season in college basketball. There’s even snow on the ground to make the women’s tournament feel especially warm and cozy this year.
But it’s also serious business for the field of 64, some of whom will be playing in the postseason for the first time, or for the first time in a very long time.
Here is a look at some of the story lines surrounding the 16 teams in UConn’s bracket – the Bridgeport Regional.
Win One For Mother Russia
If you are enthralled with collegiate geography, you likely knew the University of Idaho – UConn’s first-round opponent on Saturday – is located in Moscow. As far as we know, there is no Boise in Russia.
What you may find more interesting is the Vandals scored exactly one more point (2,102) that their opponents this season, which isn’t saying much since it took them 32 games to do it.
Just try saying it slowly to get the rhythm down. It’s not as hard to say as it looks.
The first 30-win season in program history has led to its first NCAA Tournament berth, quite a complement for an athletic program also possessing the nation’s No. 1 hockey team.
The 13th-seeded Bobcats, the Northeast Conference champions, have won 22 straight games but now enter Turtle Shell at Maryland, seeded 4th.
Quinnipiac is just one of six teams in the nation to have 30 wins, something not even UConn can say as of yet. They also have not lost since Dec. 29 against Georgia Tech.
But beating Maryland will require toughness. The Terrapins like the physical stuff.
If only the Bobcats could use freshman Travis St. Denis – who leads the hockey team with 68 penalty minutes.
Big East Alumni Does Well
UConn fans always liked watching West Virginia play. Coach Mike Carey’s teams never scored much, but they played a structured, fundamentally sound game always accented by tenacious defense.
The Mountaineers (17-13) left the Big East before this season to join the Big 12 and finished sixth in the conference.
On Sunday, West Virginia gets Delaware (30-3), which closed out the Colonial Athletic Association as the regular-season and tournament champions. Delaware’s school-record win streak is 25 straight, the third-longest in the NCAA behind Baylor (30) and Notre Dame (26).
And Delaware means Elena Delle Donne (25.3 points) with the second highest scoring average in the nation. Delle Donne also leads the team with 63 blocks and is second on the team with 230 rebounds. Delle Donne shoots 49.8 percent (240-482) from the field and 49.0 percent (153-166) from three.
Beware, Elena. West Virginia’s mountain man – the mascot, not Carey – carries a loaded musket.
Come Home, Elena
It was Alanis Morrisette who sang “Ironic.” She did not have Delle Donne’s career in mind, however.
But just think about how things may play out for Delaware’s greatest women’s basketball player ever.
She began her career as one of UConn’s highest profile recruits five years ago and spent approximately 48 hours in Storrs before returning home, initially to play volleyball.
Now, if the Blue Hens beat West Virginia, and presumably North Carolina in the second round, they will travel to Bridgeport for the Sweet 16.
Her career could end where it began – in Connecticut. A little too ironic, don’t you think, like a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break?
Don’t fool yourself – UConn loses its share of recruiting battles. And on no NCAA roster is the evidence more apparent than North Carolina. Krista Gross and Xylina McDaniel, the daughter of former NBA star Xavier, play for the Tar Heels but were seriously courted by UConn.
You can’t win them all, which likely explains why UConn has won the last five games between the teams by a total of 158 points.
Next season, guard Diamond DeShields of Norcross, Ga., a player the Huskies recruited with extraordinary zeal, will join the Tar Heels program. Good luck, Diamond.
Among the male coaches in women’s basketball, only Georgia’s Andy Landers has Kentucky’s Matthew Mitchell beat when it comes to the liberal use of hair product. Mitchell is slick, literally and figuratively, and he’s built the Wildcats into an SEC power.
Of course, when we mention Kentucky its impossible to do so without a bow to Samarie Walker, who also left UConn, but in the middle of her freshman season.
Now a junior, Walker has been the Wildcats most versatile player, averaging over eight points and eight rebounds.
Stay Out of the Water
No. 12 Marist, which plays No. 5 Michigan State in a first-round game in College Park, Md., on Saturday, is coached by the accomplished Brian Georgis.
USA Basketball just named him as an assistant on Sherri Coale’s World University Games team this summer along with Penn State’s Coquese Washington.
Georgis team won its eighth straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.
But earlier this year at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, a Marist parent was complaining that Georgis wouldn’t let his players hang out at pool or beach on game days, something even the UConn women didn’t have to deal with.
Come on, man! Seriously?
Happy 25th to Geno and Chris
This marks the 25th trip to the NCAA Tournament for the biggest power couple in women’s basketball, Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey.
The honeymoon began inauspiciously with first-round losses in 1989 and 1990 to LaSalle and Clemson before the Huskies reached their first final Four in 1991 in New Orleans.
This year, UConn will try to qualify for its sixth consecutive Final Four, which would be an NCAA Division I women’s basketball record. They are after an eighth national championship.
Society mavens may suggest a classy gift, something appropriate for the silver anniversary, jewelry, perhaps an engraved keepsake.
Don’t bother, Auriemma and Dailey have just about anything money can buy.
What they need is a win over Notre Dame.