Womens Basketball: Connecticut vs Saint Francis PA - D1SportsNet


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Womens basketball

Connecticut vs Saint Francis PA

For the UConn women's basketball team the mandate is simple: return to the top of the mountain.

A year after losing in the Final Four for the first time since 2012, coach Geno Auriemma and Co. begin their path toward the promised land on Saturday at home, when the Huskies take on No. 16-seed St. Francis (Pa.) in the first round of the NCAA Women's Tournament at 11 a.m. at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

For the first time in five years, the Huskies enter the tournament not looking to repeat as champions but rather looking to steal the trophy back from South Carolina, which snapped UConn's four-year run as national champion last season.

The Huskies once again are the No. 1 overall seed and have yet another first-round matchup with the Red Flash, a team UConn beat in the tournament-openers in 1999 and 2002.

The Huskies know they enter the tournament with a massive target on their backs despite losing in the Final Four last season to Mississippi State.

"We see some obstacles in front of us now, when you see the bracket unfold," senior Gabby Williams told reporters. "Every year is special because every year is so different and has unique things that we have to overcome. ... Especially for us older guys, who went through what happened last year, we're anxious to prove ourselves once again. And for the guys who haven't, they're anxious to just be on the stage and see what it's like."

UConn anxiously awaits what could be an Elite 8 matchup with the defending-champion Gamecocks, who received a No. 2 seed in the Albany region.

Mississippi State, which shocked the Huskies last season in the Final Four, are one of the three other No. 1 seeds, along with Notre Dame and Louisville. It is the 21st time UConn has been a No. 1 seed in 30 appearances.

"You can't look too far ahead because you never know what's going to happen with our team, other teams, you don't know who you could be facing," junior Katie Lou Samuelson told reporters. "No matter who it is, we'll be ready. We won't take anyone lightly this year."

St. Francis (24-9) may be facing long odds, but the Northeastern Conference champions do have one particularly dangerous weapon: Junior guard Jessica Kovatch is the nation's second-leading scorer at 24.9 points per game.

"This is really exciting, getting to go up against a historic team like UConn," head coach Joe Haigh said. "This is a great opportunity for us to represent Saint Francis, to showcase the school, our program and these players on a national stage and on national television."

Whichever team wins will face either No. 9-seeded Quinnipiac, which became a tournament darling after upsetting No. 4-seed Miami in the second round last season, or the Hurricanes themselves, the region's No. 8 seed.

"There's nothing easy at all about a national championship and at some point you're going to have to beat some really good teams," Auriemma told reporters. "The one thing I've seen change is the 8-9 game has become really good. And the No. 1, vs. the 8-9 winner, is playing a really good team. That didn't (always) exist. Now you're getting pretty good teams. If you're the No. 1 team and you win, your second game isn't a piece of cake anymore."