TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Geno Auriemma said he was excited to watch the Kentucky men’s team play Saturday night.
The Hall of Fame coach and his UConn Huskies surely noticed how surprisingly and quickly the Wildcats’ perfect season ended short of their ultimate goal — a national championship. The Huskies will try for a better fate.
UConn is an overwhelming favorite to win a third straight national championship. The Huskies are two victories away from completing the second three-peat in school history. Getting those two wins would tie Auriemma with vaunted UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most in the history of college basketball.
First up for Auriemma and his squad is Maryland on Sunday night. South Carolina and Notre Dame will face off in the first semifinal.
Here are a few storylines from the women’s Final Four:
PHILLY CONNECTIONS: Three of the Final Four coaches are from the City of Brotherly Love. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is from Philadelphia while Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Auriemma also grew up in the area. “We’re thinking maybe a cheesesteak to the winner,” McGraw said. “We always thought that so much began in Philadelphia on the men’s and women’s side. To have three of us, and we all still speak the language. I think we’re all pretty much the same, and tell it like it is. I can really appreciate that. … It’s a shame that the Final Four is not in Philly.”
DECORATED HUSKIE: Breanna Stewart won The Associated Press player of the year award for the second consecutive season Saturday. Earlier in the day she won the Wade Trophy for the first time. Despite the individual awards, Stewart was still focused on the bigger goal, winning a third title. “It’s the reason why we are here, to play basketball,” she said. “These awards are nice, but it’s all extra. It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t do what we came here for.”
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: It’s UConn’s eighth straight Final Four appearance while Notre Dame is back for the fifth consecutive year. Maryland has two trips in a row to the national semifinals after an eight year absence.
“Last year we were pretty much excited to be there,” Maryland senior guard Laurin Mincy said. “We hadn’t been to the Final Four in a while. We were there enjoying the town and all the festivities. This year our mind-set is different. We want to get over that hump. That was our goal from last year, to get to the Final Four. This year it’s to get to that championship game and win.”
Staley has South Carolina here for the first time in school history although she made it this far three times as a player for Virginia.
TALL ORDER: Maryland is winless in three games with the Huskies, losing by an average of 15 points — including a 17-point defeat at home last season. Still coach Brenda Frese isn’t intimidated and says it’s time for a change.
“Aren’t we tired of it,” Frese said of UConn’s dominance. “Everyone’s rooting for us. Some new stories, our sport needs it to be quite honest. I know there are a lot of people out there cheering and want to see Maryland beat UConn. For us and our sport it would be a great thing.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall contributed to this story.
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