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UConn Uses Albany As Final Four Springboard Again

The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team is heading back to the Final Four in Tampa after winning two NCAA tournament games in Albany over the weekend.

When Albany first won the bid to host the women’s tournament, the thinking went that mighty UConn, and its legion of area fans, would be coming through town en route to the Final Four.

And that’s exactly what happened each of the three times the tourney has been played in Albany since 2015.

After all, the Huskies haven’t missed the Final Four since 2007.

But this regional final felt a little different. The Huskies, still the standard for excellence in the sport, without back-to-back losses since 1993, came into their 31st NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed instead of a 1.

One reason? Playing with a shorter rotation than usual this year, UConn lost to Louisville on the last day of January.

So when the bracket had the Huskies and the Cardinals in the same region, that potential rematch loomed large. And each side made sure another meeting would happen.

UConn gritted out a 69-61 win over UCLA in Friday’s Sweet 16 opener, and Louisville turned away Oregon State 61-44 in the nightcap.

That set up a heavyweight battle on Sunday — in which UConn senior Katie Lou Samuelson responded to one of her worst games of the year against UCLA with 29 points including seven 3-pointers.

Coach Geno Auriemma spoke after UConn outlasted the Cardinals 80-73 Sunday.

“This is one of those times where I go into every game in the postseason and I’m thinking, ‘This could be the day when it all kind of catches up to us.’ Like at Baylor, like at Louisville, where we just walk in and we’re totally blown away," he said. "I was nauseous all weekend thinking this could be the day. Usually, when we come to these regionals with the teams that we’ve had, I’m not nauseous. I’m like the happiest guy in the world, generally, at least on the outside. But this time I was a wreck. Because we’re like this far away from winning the whole thing and from it all blowing up in our face. And I’ve never really experienced that that much.” 

Senior Napheesa Collier had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Huskies.

“This is just an unbelievable feeling. Nothing has come easy for us this year. We’ve earned every second, so just doing this with this team is just the best feeling,” she said.

Now, UConn heads to Tampa. The Final Four starts Friday, and junior Chrystal Dangerfield says the Huskies will be a tough out.

“There were a lot of people that didn’t think that we were going to get to the Final Four, let alone the Elite Eight, Sweet 16 and so on. We wanted to first just prove it to ourselves that we were capable of doing something like this, and we went out and did it. It feels good,” she said.

Attendance Sunday was 9,204. The women’s tourney is a taking a one-year break from Albany before the regionals return in 2021.

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament is also leaving — for Atlantic City — but March 2020 will still be a busy month in Albany. The men’s NCAA tournament returns to the Times Union Center for first- and second-round games, the first time the dance has been in Albany since 2003.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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