Here are the most important storylines as UConn, Towson, Buffalo, and Rutgers get ready to kick-off play in the Storrs pod. Last time we spoke with the team was right after the bracket reveal confusion and subsequent official snubbing of the Huskies with a 2-seed.
The Huskies tip off against Towson at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Samuelson Making Her Return
Barring an unforeseen setback, all signs point to Katie Lou Samuelson playing tomorrow. How much she plays is still a question mark.
“Athletes that have back issues, once they start playing, the worst thing you can do is take them out, sit, then put them back in,” Auriemma said. “So if Lou feels good, she’s staying in there. If and when I do take Lou out, it’s probably for the rest of the game.”
While the coach may not sub Samuelson out, they still need to deal with the other game stoppages, such as timeouts and free throws — not to mention a 15-minute halftime. The team will need to find a way to keep her back loose during those breaks.
It’s also important to remember Samuelson hasn’t played in a real game in nearly three weeks and has only been practicing for the past week. Her level of fitness could be a bigger factor in how many minutes she plays than her back, something Samuelson admitted herself.
“Well, my knees feel good but my lungs do not in practice so that’s the only thing,” she said. “I have just been trying to get back into shape, game ready shape. It is definitely different than drills and stuff, playing live.”
In discussing Samuelson’s injury and status for Friday, Auriemma gave some interesting insight into his injury philosophy.
“I’ve always subscribed to the theory that when you’re injured, you have no say. It doesn’t matter what you think. It’s up to the medical staff when you play. When you’re hurt, it’s up to you when you play. So Lou had an injury that kept her from playing, plain and simple. And now, she’s kind of given leeway as to, ‘Hey, how much do you think you can play and how much are you willing to try to do?’ And Lou said ‘I want to play,’ so she’s gonna play.”
The Wonder of It All
With UConn on the eve of its 31st-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, it can be easy to take a spot in March Madness for granted. But with Buffalo sent to Storrs for the first round, head coach Felisha Leggette-Jack helped put things in perspective.
“It’s a true honor. We are so excited....This is never old,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years as an assistant coach and a head coach and this is just my third time in the NCAA [Tournament], so even though I don’t have a voice, I’m still so excited. What the kids say, geeked? Pumped? Whatever those cool words are, that’s my emotion. It’s just an honor to be here.”
She also noted that not only is it an incredible experience for her team to get into the NCAA Tournament, getting sent to a place like UConn with so much history.
“Those seven freshmen are acting tough and walking around but I know they’re saying “OMG, I’m at UConn where all they do is win, win, win. And there’s a chance we can meet Geno!” Leggette-Jack laughed.
The coach isn’t going to stop her team from being excited about playing at UConn and potentially meeting Auriemma. But Leggette-Jack also wants to be sure they will be ready to play once they step on the court.
“I’m not gonna tell them not to be excited about Geno, I’m gonna be excited about meeting Geno. I want them to be excited,” she said. “[But] we measured the court at Hartford where we practiced, it was 94 feet long. And we measured the one at Alumni and the rim was 10 feet. I don’t have my ruler with me but I can assure our players that the rim is gonna be 10 feet and [the court will be] 94 feet long...the one thing I teach my players every single day about the journey of life is that you can respect all but fear nobody.”
It’ll be interesting to see if her team can overcome the wonder and awe in order to upset No. 7 Rutgers on UConn’s home floor.
You Always Remember Your First
With Towson making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, Auriemma was asked what he remembers about his first game in March Madness against La Salle back in 1989.
“I didn’t know what to do to get them ready,” Auriemma admitted. “I wasn’t gonna panic and overdo it and start coaching like John Wooden or something. So one day we played wiffle ball. I was just trying to get their minds off of that.”
31 years later, it’s safe to say the Huskies probably won’t be playing wiffle ball to prepare for their game tomorrow. But tomorrow’s game will also be quite different. For starters, it will be played in Gampel Pavilion instead of the Hugh Greer Field House, and the crowd should comfortably surpass the solid 1,500 that showed up that day.
First Round Flashback
While UConn has played in 31 NCAA Tournaments, this is just their 29th first round game. Before the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994, the Huskies got a first round bye twice. In those games, the Huskies are 26-2 with their last loss coming in 1993 against Louisville.
Had UConn been the No. 1 seed in the Albany Regional, they would’ve played Robert Morris, the same team the faced in the first round in 2016. The Huskies have faced four teams multiple times in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They have played Saint Francis (PA) the most with three meetings, most recently this past season. UConn has seen Howard, Prairie View A&M and St. Peter’s twice.
This is also the sixth-straight year the Huskies will host the first two rounds in Storrs and the 10th-consecutive tournament they’ve played the first two rounds in the state of Connecticut. The last time they didn’t was back in 2010 when they played in Norfolk, VA.
Just Your Average Geno
After Auriemma’s press conference on Thursday, he paused in the media workspace to watch the end of the Yale-LSU game in the men’s NCAA Tournament before heading to the Gampel court for practice. Later in the day he was spotted at the XL Center for the Villanova-St. Mary’s game. The man just loves the game, and sports in general.