UConn enters every season with a goal of winning three championships. The first two – the Big East regular season and tournament titles – belong to Notre Dame.
“It’s something you don’t want to have had happened,” UConn freshman Breanna Stewart said. “They [the Irish] are our rivals. You don’t want to lose to anyone. But you especially don’t want to lose to your rivals.”
Beginning Monday, the Huskies will have their chance to secure the biggest prize, an eighth national championship. And it’s practically certain they will begin the journey to a possible sixth straight Final Four with four games in their home state.
“This is it,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “The [losing] is frustrating and it’s getting old. This is literally the absolute last chance we will have to make anything of our season. If there is anything we haven’t put out there yet [to succeed] we need to do it now.”
The Huskies (29-4) are expected to be a No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport Regional when the NCAA Selection Committee announces its field of 64 teams. They should be joined by other top seeds, defending national champion Baylor, Notre Dame and Stanford.
The Huskies have played them all, losing to Notre Dame three times, Baylor once and defeating then-No. 1 Stanford, 61-35, in Palo Alto, Calif., on Dec. 29.
UConn will begin play Saturday with a first-round game at Gampel Pavilion. According to Charlie Creme, ESPN’s bracketologist for women’s basketball, they would meet Navy, a three-time Patriot League champion.
Interestingly, Creme projects Oklahoma and St. Joseph’s (Pa.) as the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds. The winner of that game would play UConn Monday in the second-round, should the Huskies defeat Navy.
“That is as far as we are looking right now,” Geno Auriemma said after UConn’s 61-59 loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament final.
From there, UConn would travel to Bridgeport for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. These games were originally scheduled to be played in Trenton, N.J. However, the NCAA stripped New Jersey of all of its host venues for upcoming championships, in all divisions and all sports, after it legalized sports betting last year.
Bridgeport, which hosted first- and second-round games last season, then rebid and won the rights to the regional final, which will be played March 30 and April 1.
The Final Four will be at New Orleans Arena on April 7 and 9.
In Creme’s bracket, Kentucky is the No. 2 seed in Bridgeport. The Wildcats lost to the SEC Championship game to Texas A&M, a team defeated by 31 points by UConn on the road on Nov. 18.
Last year, the Huskies defeated Kentucky, 80-65, behind 22 points Tiffany Hayes to advance to the Final Four for the fifth consecutive season in Kingston, R.I.
The third seed is projected to be UCLA, followed by No. 4 Maryland. The Huskies beat the Terrapins, 63-48, at the XL Center on Dec. 3.
For the Huskies, the biggest challenge will be to get reoriented after losing for the third time to Notre Dame last Tuesday in the final Big East tournament championship game.
The Huskies did not convert a three-pointer in the loss (0-for-5) for the first time since the 2002 national championship game against Oklahoma.
The Huskies had a chance to win it with 18 seconds and left and the scored tied at 59. But a turnover by Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins led to Natalie Achonwa’s game-winning basket with 1.8 seconds to play.
“We had the opportunity in our hands, but we just lost it,” Stewart said.