Friday, November 24, 2017

Connecticut-Louisville women's preview


NEW ORLEANS — Geno Auriemma has never lost an NCAA Tournament championship game.

Of course, his Connecticut Huskies haven't had to face a team like Louisville, which is making an unprecedented run. A victory tonight would be UConn's eighth title, matching Tennessee for the most in women's basketball.

Auriemma didn't want to think about it: "Talking about things that haven't happened yet is never a good idea.''

History is on the Hall of Fame coach's side: UConn is 7-0 in finals, including 2009 against Louisville and 2004 in a game also played in New Orleans.

This trip to the Big Easy could begin a new dynasty for the Huskies, led by Breanna Stewart. The heralded freshman was named most outstanding player of the Bridgeport Region, then had a season-high 29 points in the semifinal victory over Notre Dame.

Auriemma said he couldn't remember a better game in such a setting.

Stewart has scored 82 points in the NCAA Tournament in just four games. The Syracuse, N.Y., native sat out the opening round rout of Idaho.

And the Huskies have had their way with the Cardinals, winning the past 12 meetings, including that 2009 title.

"I don't remember a thing, you try not to remember anything about those games," Louisville coach Jeff Walz deadpanned. "We're playing better basketball. The kids are confident, not much more to say.''

The Cardinals have rolled through the tournament behind freewheeling guard Shoni Schimmel.

"It's going to take the best game we've played to date," Walz said. "We are going to have to play better than we played against Baylor, Tennessee and Cal. We're going to have to play 40 minutes of pretty much perfect basketball."

That will start with Schimmel. Whether hitting 3-pointers from way behind the line or a behind-the-back bounce pass to her sister Jude, Schimmel has starred for the No. 5 seed.

"We're not done with what we've come out here to do and that's win a national championship," Schimmel said. "Why not go out with a bang?"

She developed her range in the family driveway, sometimes so late at night that her parents urged her to stop to avoid annoying the neighbors.

Louisville can become the lowest seed to win a women's championship. Villanova, a No. 8, was the lowest ever to win a men's title in 1985.

No matter who wins, the Big East, which will split apart after this season, will have a ninth championship.

"It's a special thing," Walz said. "Every time you turn on a Final Four there's Big East teams playing in it. This is the best league in women's basketball."

Honor: Baylor All-American Brittney Griner was named the Naismith player of the year, the seventh repeat winner.

Clemson: Audra Smith, who spent the past nine years as UAB's coach, was hired to take over the Tigers.

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