UConn’s road to defending its NCAA women’s basketball title comes through the Albany Regional at the Times Union Center this weekend. The question is if any one of the teams the 34-1 Huskies will face have any chance of beating them.
ESPN college basketball analyst Doris Burke has a very simple answer.
“My honest answer is I believe UConn will come out of this regional,” said Burke, who will work the games from the TU Center.
ESPN will televise today’s semifinals and Monday’s title game. Nine-time national champion UConn faces Texas (24-10) in the first semifinal at noon, followed by Dayton (27-6) against Louisville (27-6) at 2:30 p.m. Monday’s championship game, which earns the winner a spot in the Final Four, will be at 7 p.m.
UConn is on a 33-game winning streak since losing to Stanford, 88-86, in overtime in its second contest of the season Nov. 17.
“Beating UConn is always a formidable challenge,” Burke said during a phone interview this week. “It’s funny, as I was watching their second-round game against Rutgers, the one thought I had was you had a situation where most people thought UConn would have been vulnerable, and that’s foul trouble in their frontcourt, especially with one of their best players in the country, Breanna Stewart.”
It didn’t matter. UConn rolled to a 91-55 victory to get to Albany.
“Even in the face of that, they dominated a Rutgers team that is notoriously stingy on the defensive end,” Burke said. “You sort of sit there with a wry smile and say, ‘Wow!’ Even in the one area of weakness, which is I don’t think it’s an exceptionally deep UConn team, they still found a way to dominate the game.”
If a team can find a way to stop the Huskies, Burke believes guard play is the key.
“UConn specializes historically, under [coach] Geno Auriemma, in taking away your strengths,” Burke said, “meaning the one or two things you lean on heavily to win games. They do a great job of taking those things away, and trying to make you win in ways you’re not comfortable winning.”
The one stumble the Huskies had was in the loss to Stanford. The Huskies looked disorganized late in the second and overtime. It was rare to see that happen.
Needless to say, that hasn’t occurred since.
“One thing that happened in that game was their inability to contain dribble drive with elite-level guards in Amber Orrange and Lili Thompson,” Burke said. “Those two guards were able to [provide] ball-screen action, or just because of their individual abilities, get by their defenders. I think it was a wake-up call for a couple of players, in particular. [Guard] Saniya Chong, who’s a terrific player but needs growth on the defensive end, it got her attention, and [forward] Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis probably sat up and noticed after that game.
“You also saw immediately that Geno made the switch in the starting lineup from Saniya Chong to Kia Nurse. What it gave him was a more well-balanced player in Kia and someone who started the game with a much more defensive mindset.”
Play-by-play announcer Dave O’Brien joins Burke in the booth. Holly Rowe will be the sideline reporter. The trio will work the Final Four next weekend in Tampa, Fla. . . .
ESPN will use six cameras to cover the games. . . .
Also today, ESPN will televise the Spokane Regional semifinals. Duke faces Maryland at 4:30 p.m., and Gonzaga takes on Tennessee at 7 p.m. The final is 9 p.m. Monday on ESPN. . . .
On Sunday, ESPN televises the Greensboro, N.C., Regional final at noon, and the Oklahoma City Regional final at 8:30 p.m.