Advertisement

UConn will begin its quest for a 12th national title as a No. 3 seed with an injury-depleted team

UConn will begin its quest for a 12th national title as a No. 3 seed with an injury-depleted team

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn coach Geno Auriemma has had years when he was very confident his team would be making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This is not one of them.

The Huskies (29-5), the No. 3 seed in the Portland 3 regional, come into Saturday's game with No. 14 seeded Jackson State (26-6) with a very short bench.

The loss of little-used reserve Amari DeBerry to a concussion just before the postseason was the sixth season-ending injury for Connecticut, which leaves the Huskies with eight players, only six of whom play significant minutes. Three of those are freshmen, two of whom start.

“We talk to our team about how we’ve got all the pieces in place. We have everything that we need," coach Geno Auriemma said. “Among ourselves, the coaches, it's hey, look, we have one way to win. If that way doesn’t work, we’re screwed, and on early vacation."

The key for the Huskies will be the play of their two All Americans, guard Paige Bueckers (first team) and center Aailyah Edwards (an honorable mention).

Edwards (17.8 points, 9.3 rebounds per game) is coming back after missing two games with broken nose she suffered last week in the Big East tournament.

The senior, who announced on Thursday that she will forgo her final year of eligibility to enter the WNBA draft, said she feels good, but will be wearing a mask, something she did for most of last season after suffering a similar injury.

“I’m not going to let it distract me or anything like that,” she said, “I’m still the same player, same teammate.”

The 6-foot-3 Edwards will have to contend with Jackson State's 6-6 center Angel Jackson, a USC transfer who averages just under 10 points and seven rebounds a game.

Three other Tigers average double figures in scoring for the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions, who come in having won 21 straight games.

“Each player, height for height, pound for pound, I think we match up well with them,” Jackson State coach Tomekia Reed said. “I think they are an aggressive team, and we’ve seen some aggressive teams this year in (nonconference), and we’ve seen some aggressive teams in our conference. Overall I think we will be prepared for them, and we do stand a chance with a good matchup with them.”

Auriemma concurs.

“I always say later in the season, I don’t care what seed we are, we just want to get in,” Auriemma said. “Well, that’s a bunch of crap because you’re trying to avoid this game in the first round — because they’re good.”

RUNNING IT BACK

No. 6 seed Syracuse (23-7) is in Storrs to face No. 11 Arizona (18-15) five years after Syracuse coach Felisha Legette-Jack brought her Buffalo team to the same venue in the NCAA Tournament.

Legette-Jack is now in her second season with the Orange, who are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2021.

Syracuse is led by third-team All American Dyaisha Fair, a graduate student who came with Legette-Jack from Buffalo.

“She sent me a text the other day,” Legette-Jack said. “She said, ‘Hey, Coach Jack.’ I said, ‘Yes, D’. And then she said, “Can I have this last dance.' And then of course I’m just a baby, and I cried and all that crazy stuff. And I said, ‘Of course, D.' She just really, really cares. She knows how to push the buttons. Not so you get soft but so you can embrace what’s happening. This is our last ride. Let’s let it ride."

LONG RIDE

Arizona has already had a long journey to the opening round, beating Auburn in a First Four game on Thursday. Afterwards, women's coach Adia Barnes took to social media to complain that it took an hour to get from the team hotel near Bradley International Airport to Gampel Pavilion. She later said that made it impossible to have a shootaround in the morning and make another round-trip in time for Thursday's game.

But, she said it wasn't that big a deal.

“If any time can handle adversity, it's Arizona,” she said. “We've lost half of our scoring this year. We've had people quit. We've had people removed from the team and we still find a way. So having to drive an hour is nothing.”

The NCAA declined to comment, except to say that it requires hotels to be “within reasonable proximity to the competition venue.” Most teams visiting UConn stay in or around Hartford, which is about a 30 minute drive.

___

AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness