By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has had more of its share of streaks in coach Geno Auriemma’s 28 years here.
Some, like the Huskies’ NCAA-record 90-game winning streak, caught the imagination of the country. Other streaks have gone a bit under the radar.
But when UConn received an at-large bid to the 2013 NCAA tournament Monday, it was meaningful for Auriemma and the program. It will mark the Huskies’ 25th straight NCAA appearance.
UConn (29-4) is the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional and will begin its bid for a record sixth straight Final Four appearance Saturday when it hosts Western Athletic Conference tournament champion Idaho at Gampel Pavilion.
“The longer this goes, the more you realize how hard this is to do,” Auriemma said. “It’s like anything else we’ve done since I’ve been at Connecticut. You try to measure yourself in terms of consistency, how long we’ve been able to be at the level we’re at right now. If it was that easy, everyone would do it.
“That’s why I get a big kick out of when you have that mentality of what have you done for us last week or what are you going to do next week … How many teams have won national championships the last 20 years and have not been back to the Final Four or had any kind of success remotely close to that? You do take a tremendous amount of pride in that it’s been a consistent run for us and hopefully it will continue.”
The Huskies’ current streak is the third-longest behind Tennessee (32) and Stanford (26).
“I don’t think you take it for granted and I know for sure we don’t take it for granted,” Auriemma said. “All you have to do is look around on the men’s side. The defending champions (Kentucky), with one injury, go from being able defend the title to not being in the tournament. We’ve seen too many instances it can be taken away from you.”
Kentucky, with former UConn player Samarie Walker, is the No. 2 seed in Bridgeport behind the Huskies.
North Carolina is seeded third while Maryland is the No. 4 seed. UConn defeated Kentucky in last year’s Elite Eight in Kingston, R.I. The Huskies defeated the Terrapins in Hartford in December.
The UConn-Idaho winner will face either Atlantic-10 Conference tournament No. 9 Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) or eighth-seeded Vanderbilt out of the Southeastern Conference a week from tonight for a spot in the Sweet 16 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.
Defending national champion Baylor is the overall No. 1 seed followed by Notre Dame, UConn, and Stanford. That means the Irish and Huskies could meet for a third straight year in the national semifinals.
The Final Four is at New Orleans Arena.
“I had a good idea to the No. 1 seeds but I was just eager to see who the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds would be and how that would play out,” UConn guard Bria Hartley said. “I think we’re excited to play. A lot of the focus in on what we have to do. We know a lot of the teams that are out there and we’re going to go out there and played really hard.”
The Huskies’ road to the Final Four doesn’t take them far. If they win their two games at Gampel Pavilion it’s off to Bridgeport.
Twice before, in 1995 and 2004, UConn has reached the Final Four without leaving the state of Connecticut.
Idaho (17-15) is making its first NCAA appearance since winning the Big Sky championship in 1985. The Vandals earned the WAC’s automatic bid by winning three league tourney games by a total of seven points, capped by a 67-64 victory over top-seeded Seattle Saturday. They are led in scoring by junior Alyssa Charleston (13.7), sophomore Stacey Barr (10.8), and freshman Christina Salvatore (10.6).
UConn and Idaho have never met and the teams have no common opponents this season. Hartley didn’t know what city the university was in (Moscow) or the school’s nickname (Vandals).
“I don’t do any research on the University of Idaho. Sorry,” Hartley said with a laugh. “I’m an east coast kid.”
“Before Saturday we’ll know everything that we need to know,” Auriemma said. “As of right now, all we know is that they’re in the tournament and we play them Saturday.”
The Huskies returned to practice Saturday and also worked out Sunday and Monday. They will take Tuesday off before going back to work Wednesday in preparation for the weekend.
“We had a few days off after the Notre Dame game so we were able to get our bodies some rest,” Hartley said. “It’s tough playing three games in three days and the way it ended. But we came back and had some pretty good practices and we’re excited to play.”
Saint Joseph’s (23-8) clinched its first NCAA berth since 2000 by beating Fordham 47-46 in Saturday’s A-10 tournament final. Vanderbilt (20-11) was eliminated in the SEC tournament quarterfinals by Kentucky. UConn defeated Vanderbilt in the 1996 Mideast Regional final.
UConn has not lost a NCAA tournament game on campus since 1993.