Winning Streak on Line, UConn Steels for Fight at Stanford
If the pressure is all on top-ranked UConn in Thursday night's spotlight matchup with No. 9 Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., someone should tell the Huskies.
The team with the 90-game winning streak, placing it on the line in a big way against a big, deep, experienced Cardinal team that just put a 37-point licking on the No. 4 team in the nation, doesn't deal much with pressure.
Not when they tied and broke the NCAA Division I winning streak in the days before Christmas. Not now.
"If we felt pressure the Ohio State game and the Florida State game wouldn't have gone the way it did," said Huskies coach Geno Auriemma. "Because there wasn't that pressure then, there isn't that sense of relief now."
But don't mistake that for nonchalance. The Huskies (12-0) know what they are getting into against the team they faced last April in the national title game. Auriemma said he wouldn't be surprised if his young team stumbled here on the West Coast.
Huskies star Maya Moore said Thursday's game is "exactly the kind of game we want."
With Tennessee off Connecticut's schedule, the Cardinal have become their chief -- and most worthy -- adversary.
Auriemma regards Tara VanDerveer's team as "the biggest team in (women's) college basketball". And more.
"If they were just big I couldn't be concerned at all," Auriemma said. "But they are big, talented, they have terrific athletes at a couple of positions and they are very disciplined. They are going to get what they want to get."
The biggest concern for Connecticut will, however, be matching up with Stanford's post game.
His team lacks depth and experience inside after the departure of Tina Charles.
While Stanford (8-2) counters with Kayla Pedersen and the Ogwumike sisters, Nneka and Chiney inside along with 6-foot-5 reserve Sarah Boothe.
Connecticut has played on the road this season, but playing at Georgia Tech and South Florida and Pacific on their respective home floors is not the same as playing at Maples Pavilion, where Stanford has won 51 straight games and the Huskies haven't played since 1993.
Reserve guard Lorin Dixon likely will miss the game for Connecticut after injuring an ankle earlier in the week in practice. Connecticut is not a deep team. Dixon's injury exacerbates that situation.
Auriemma's plan to counter Stanford's height with speed may be a more difficult plan to pull off now with only nine healthy bodies.
"We spent last night and this morning trying to figure out an easy way to guard them and there's isn't one," Auriemma said. "We just don't match up with them and we are going to have to find a way to neutralize them and not having Lorin limits the options for sure."
The best option is a big game from Moore, who had 41 points in the record-breaking win over Florida State.
"If Maya struggles tomorrow night, if she can't play to the level she's used to playing, we are going to lose," Auriemma said.
When this matchup was initially put on the calendar, many assumed it would be a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. At least No. 1 and No. 3. But Stanford lost two games on the road headed into the Holiday break at DePaul and in overtime at Tennessee. The Cardinal fell to No. 9 in the national rankings.
And Auriemma doesn't care even a little about that.
"The fact is they are No. 9 and not No. 2, but does that mean all of a sudden they are not as good because they lost a couple of games on the road to good teams?" Auriemma said. "Whether they are No. 2 or No. 9 or No. 29 it doesn't matter. They are still Stanford. I know who they are."