How to watch
When: Saturday, March 6, 12:00 p.m.
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT
Stream: Fox Sports Go (log-in required)
Radio: The River 105.9
St. John’s Red Storm
Record: 8-14 (4-12 Big East)
Location: Queens, NY
Head coach: Joe Tartamella (ninth season)
In 1989, Geno Auriemma brought in a seven-player freshman class and went on to win UConn’s first Big East Tournament championship. 32 years later, the Huskies once again have seven freshmen and are in search of their first Big East Tournament title as new members of the conference.
While UConn’s current crop of freshmen helped lead the team to the top spot in the AP Poll and a regular-season conference crown, Auriemma knows that the postseason is a different animal, especially for underclassmen.
“Young players can go into a tournament one of two ways. They can go in not even knowing what’s at stake. They can go in just ‘Yeah, we got three games this weekend. Let’s go. How are they any different than the three games we just played last week?’” Auriemma said. “Or it can dawn on them that, ‘Oh my god, now you’re in a one-and-done situation. If we lose we’re out,’ and hit the panic button. So you never know with a young team.”
The aforementioned 1988-89 team is the only other time Auriemma’s had a team this young, which was just his fourth year as head coach. This season has been a new experience for him, one that hasn’t always gone smoothly.
“There’s a lot of learning curves we had to go through,” Paige Bueckers said. “Everything wasn’t easy, everything we didn’t understand right away. I know Coach got a lot more gray hairs coaching us.”
Even though practice may not have moved as quickly or players didn’t pick up things as quickly as Auriemma may be used to, the payoff appears to have been worth the trouble.
“With a lot of young players it’s been frustrating, unlike any other year I’ve had in a while,” he said. “Watching them get better has been incredibly rewarding. Watching our freshmen evolve into being able to win a championship has been gratifying and great for them.”
That doesn’t mean UConn’s expectations are any different. The Huskies still expect to win the Big East Tournament championship this weekend and later, a national championship. Getting the young players to understand the importance of these games without spooking them is a fine line.
“I’m sure when our first game comes on Saturday, it may take some time for us to settle into the game,” Auriemma said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that were to happen. Either trying too hard or being too nervous or wanting to win so bad. At that point, there’s not much you can do about it.”
UConn will face St. John’s on Saturday after the Red Storm defeated Xavier, 65-57. Assuming the Huskies win, they will play either Villanova or DePaul in the semifinals at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Here’s the full bracket:
- UConn women’s basketball expecting the postseason bubble to be a challenge; Anna Makurat set to return
- UConn women’s basketball cleans up yearly Big East awards
- Five questions facing the Huskies in the postseason
By the numbers
37 — UConn beat St. John’s by an average of 37.0 points per game in the two meetings from earlier this season.
16 — The Huskies have reached the finals of the conference tournament in each of their last 16 seasons. The last time they didn’t was in 2004 when Boston College knocked them out in the semifinals.
.704 — Aaliyah Edwards ranks second nationally with a .704 shooting percentage.