March 28, 2010
AMES, Iowa (AP) - The numbers put up by the Connecticut women's basketball team are staggering, scary even.
UConn has won 74 straight games, all by double digits. The Huskies' average margin of victory in those games is 33 points. They won their first two games in this year's NCAA tournament by 56 and 54 points, respectively.
Connecticut's Maya Moore was The Associated Press national player of the year as a sophomore last season. If she doesn't win the award again this year, teammate Tina Charles probably will. A second straight national championship has been all but conceded to coach Geno Auriemma's powerhouse.
That's what Iowa State will face when the fourth-seeded Cyclones play top-seeded UConn on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio. And the thing is, watching the Huskies is even more frightening than digesting their stats.
No wonder Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly isn't getting much sleep.
"Probably should not have watched so much video on UConn -- going to have nightmares!!" Fennelly posted on his Twitter account. "Wow," he continued, "what a great team."
After Iowa State earned its trip to Dayton with a tense 60-56 victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay, Fennelly needed little prompting to say he was excited about the challenge of facing the nation's best team. He hasn't wavered since, despite what he's seen on film.
"I'm someone that's always very honest with the team. They know what's coming," Fennelly said Thursday. "So you either get excited about it or worry about it or feel sorry for yourself. I'd rather be preparing for UConn than going recruiting right now."
Besides, Fennelly and his players know what a drag it would have been to lose that second-round game on their home court. Now, the Cyclones are one of just five teams to reach the round of 16 for the second straight year.
Connecticut has reached this stage of the tournament for the 17th straight time.
"Everyone's probably intimidated before they play a 74-0 team," said ISU's Kelsey Bolte, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer against Wisconsin-Green Bay. "But we're pretty excited to go down there and just to be in the Sweet 16. Granted, we have to play UConn. But we're going to be playing with the best players. It's something we can say we did."
That's what it's come down to for teams facing UConn - searching for any positive they can dig up.
For Anna Prins, Iowa State's 6-foot-7 freshman center, it means looking at the game and her duel with Charles as a chance to learn.
"It's just having that mindset of taking what I can from this game," Prins said. "Having a different focus in practice, not having that intimidation mode."
For Iowa State to have any chance, Fennelly said four things must happen: The Cyclones have to shoot well, they have to limit turnovers that lead to UConn points, they have to stay with the Huskies on the boards and Connecticut has to shoot poorly.
"If any of them don't go our way, it's pretty hard to compete," he said.
Those factors went Iowa State's way the last time the Cyclones played UConn, a game that was also in Ohio. They hit several late 3-pointers, Connecticut shot 30 percent and fourth-seeded ISU beat the top-seeded Huskies 64-58 in the 1999 regional semifinals in Cincinnati.
Fennelly is constantly being asked to rehash that game, and while it was a huge victory for his program, he doubts it has much significance for his current team.
"Jess Schroll was 6 1/2 years old (then)," Fennelly said, referring to one of his freshmen. "Our players don't know what they had for lunch today. They're not going to care what happened 11 years ago."
And as good as that Connecticut team was, this one's at a different level. The Huskies are relentless. When they get someone down, they keep pouring it on, not because they're trying to run up the score, it's just the way they play.
"They're looking for the perfect game at the highest level," Fennelly said. "They can demand it. They look for it, they search it out and somehow, some way, they seem to get really close to it, a lot closer than I think anyone thought was possible."
That's why that as he was working on his practice plan Thursday, the TV in Fennelly's office was tuned in to an exhibition baseball game between the Cardinals, his favorite team, and the Mets.
"If you've been watching much Connecticut video," he said, "you'd want something else to watch."