March 20, 2010
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Connecticut's Maya Moore always feel jitters when she's getting ready for the start of the NCAA tournament, and she said this year is no different.
Even if it seems like the jitters should be more a factor for everyone else.
Moore and the Huskies (33-0) will take a record 72-game winning streak into their game against Southern (23-8) on Sunday, the start of what many expect will be a six-game sprint to a second consecutive unbeaten season and Connecticut's seventh national championship.
"Every start to the tournament, I always get a little bit of that nervous energy, which I think is good," Moore said. "If you don't have a little bit of nervous energy before every game that you play, you're not ready to go. When you lose that respect, that sense of urgency and importance for every opponent, that's when you play poorly or get beat."
That hasn't been an issue for the Huskies for a long time. Their last loss came in the national semifinals in 2008 - they've won every game since by double digits.
The biggest difference for UConn this year is opening the NCAAs on the road for the first time since 2006, and not having a chance to play in Connecticut in the tournament.
Sunday's second game in the Constant Center as part of the Dayton region will pit eighth-seeded Temple (24-8) against No. 9 James Madison (26-6). The winners meet Tuesday.
Being 500 miles from Storrs, Conn., is a good thing, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said.
"When you're at home, there's too many people pulling at the kids for stuff, at me for stuff," he said. "The officials have a bad attitude when you're at home. ... I like officials on the road a lot more than at home. I can make them feel guilty when we're on the road."
Besides, center Tina Charles said, "Our fans always travel and come and see us."
Southern, which won the Southwestern Athletic Conference, is no stranger to Norfolk, having played in the same building four years ago in the tournament against Duke. It wasn't pretty: They lost that game 96-27, made 11 field goals and set several records for offensive futility.
But forward Hannah Kador, who leads the Jaguars in scoring at 12.9 points per game, is conceding nothing to the Huskies.
"There's always a way to beat a team," Kador said. "We have to stay focused and continue to play our game. I think we'll be a good challenge."
The more exciting matchup figures to come in the second game, where the Owls have a distinct experience edge. They are making their seventh straight appearance in the NCAAs, while the Dukes are in for the second time in four years - but just the third time in the past 15.
The Owls are led by second-year coach Tonya Cardoza, who spent the previous 14 season as an assistant to Auriemma and said she has tried to copy her mentor's approach.
"You want your program to be great," Cardoza said. "Why not model it after that?"
James Madison ended a seven-game losing streak in conference championship games with its victory against Old Dominion last Sunday, and the few days they took to enjoy it may have been especially beneficial to guard Dawn Evans, one of the nation's top scorers at 24.8 points per game.
Evans was diagnosed earlier this season with focal segmental glomerular sclerosis, a kidney disease that disrupts her kidneys' filtering system. It causes high blood pressure and sometimes leaves her low on energy, and she could need a transplant as early as this summer.
For now, though, she's feeling great and ready to enjoy the big stage.
"I've had a medication change and it's given me a big boost of energy," she said. "I'm feeling really good. These last few games ... I've felt better than I've felt all season."