Saturday, March 20, 1999

UConn heavy favorite in Mideast Regional




BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Connecticut Huskies are favored to beat Iowa State at noon today in the Mideast Regional of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at UC's Shoemaker Center.

        And if the Huskies win that game, they'll be favored again Monday night to beat the winner of today's 2:30p.m. Clemson-Georgia game.

        But none of that's a lock.

TODAY'S GAMES
  At Shoemaker Center
  Connecticut (29-4) vs. Iowa St. (24-7), Noon
  Clemson (26-5) vs. Georgia (25-6), 30 minutes after
        If the stellar job Xavier did last week in almost upsetting the host Huskies in the second round is any indication, UConn can be had.

        The question is this: Was the 86-84 victory over XU a wake-up call for the Mideast's No.1 seed ... or does it show the Huskies are vulnerable?

        “I don't think that at this time of year anybody needs (waking) up,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Everyone's vulnerable. Teams that shoot the three really well, like Xavier did, will make a huge impact.”

        The four teams left in this region are its top four seeds; the same is also true for the other three regionals.

        Iowa State, the Mideast's No.4 seed, has watched the XU tape.

        “We play a similar style (to Xavier),” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “I think (our players) realize that we can play with (UConn) if we play the way we are capable of.”

        Connecticut comes at you in waves. So the question for Iowa State is whether they willride that wave or be overwhelmed by it.

        Can their seven-player rotation play with UConn's 11?

        “That is the ultimate question,” Fennelly said. “I think from a stamina standpoint we can. Foul trouble is a concern. ... But, yes, their depth is probably what we worry about the most. They could wear us out over a 40-minute game.”

        UConn (29-4) hasn't been to the Final Four in two years. This is the first trip to the Sweet 16 for Iowa State (24-7).

        Two years ago, when the Final Four was in Cincinnati, UConn was beaten by Tennessee in the Midwest Regional finals. Last year UConn was ousted by North Carolina State in the Mideast Regional finals in Dayton.

        UConn senior Amy Duran said she and her teammates intend to leave everything on the floor today.

        “When we lost that Final Four game to Tennessee when I was a freshman, it was disappointing, but no one felt bad — it was a great game,” she said. “But the past two years, maybe we were too worried about losing. I don't think we're going to make that mistake again.”

        Auriemma was asked how much it would mean for the Huskies to reach 30 wins for the sixth straight year.

        “You guys must get together in the car on the way over and say, "OK, we're gonna take turns bringing up stuff he doesn't want to talk about,'” Auriemma said to reporters. “We won 30 games five years in a row, but we've only been to two Final Fours in that time. ... Would I trade a couple 30- win seasons for a couple more Final Fours? Yeah.”

        The first five to 10 minutes of today's game will be “very crucial,” Iowa State's Megan Taylor said.

        “If you get down early, I think our confidence will maybe drop a little bit,” she said. “With a team like UConn, you might not be able to come back.”

        Handling UConn's press, rebounding with the Huskies and getting back on defense against their transition offense will be key for ISU, Taylor said.

        Fennelly concurred.

        “If you turn the ball over against Connecticut, it's a layup,” he said. “We've told our players, "If you don't know where to throw (a pass), eat it, hand it to the official, let 'em take it out of bounds and let's go play "D.'”

        UConn is 6-0 under Auriemma in these regional semifinals.

        Fennelly's take on that?

        “They have to lose sooner or later,” he said, smiling.

        Auriemma called Taylor (15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds) “maybe as good a player as they have in” the Big 12. He also praised all-Big 12 point guard Stacy Frese (17.3 ppg).

        “Any time you have a team with a real, real good point guard who has the ball in their hands a lot, you have a good team,” Auriemma said. “And they're not afraid to take any shot at any time. And they spread it around.”

Speed could kill
        In the 2:30 p.m. game, it's Georgia (25-6) vs. Clemson (26-5).

        If it's a low-scoring game, that's OK with UG coach Andy Landers.

        “Our defense against SMU (a 68-55 victory to make it into the Sweet 16) was outstanding,” he said. “I've got all the confidence in the world if we don't put a lot of points on the board, because we're a good defensive team.”

        Clemson's Amy Geren called Georgia a “very athletic, uptempo kind of team.”

        “We have to get back in transition to cut down their layups to be successful,” she said.

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