March 17, 2012
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - Geno Auriemma and the Connecticut Huskies are raring to go after being off for 10 days.
The top-seeded Huskies open up their NCAA tournament Saturday against No. 16 Prairie View A&M.
After struggling through the latter part of the regular season with losses in its final two home games, UConn came together to win the BIG EAST tournament in dominating fashion. The Huskies topped Notre Dame in the championship game, earning Geno Auriemma his 800th career victory. The Hall of Fame coach became the fastest to reach that milestone.
"Ideally it would have been great if we could have played a week ago on Saturday," Auriemma said. "That would have been better for us. I think any time you have a little momentum going and feel good about your team and they feel good about themselves and they like to capitalize on it.
"To wait 10 days, it's hard to sustain that."
The time off allowed senior guard Tiffany Hayes to rest a stress injury in her right foot. She wasn't able to practice the first few days, but returned Thursday.
"Practice went well," Hayes said. "My status for tomorrow is that I will be playing."
For the first time in Hayes' career at Connecticut, the Huskies (29-4) aren't the favorite to win the national championship. That's fine with her.
"I think this will be the best (championship) to me because nobody expects us to win because nobody thinks we can do it," she said.
This is the Huskies' 24th straight trip to the NCAA tournament and they've made it to at least the regional semifinals the last 18 years, including winning seven national championships.
Prairie View A&M (17-15) is making its fourth appearance in the NCAA tournament in the past six seasons. The Lady Panthers are still looking for the school's first victory. Last year they were crushed 66-30 by Baylor, setting an NCAA tournament record for the fewest points ever in a half - scoring just eight in the first 20 minutes of that game.
"We don't have anything to lose," Lady Panthers coach Toyelle Wilson said. "You've got to cherish these moments. You'll have them for the rest of your life."