The #4 seeded Lady Lions will meet up with the #1 seeded Connecticut Huskies for the programs' tenth time this Sunday in Kingston, RI, for the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
Not many are giving Penn State much of a chance against UConn, arguably the most dominant team in the sport over the last two decades under coach Geno Auriemma. Auriemma, who's coached the Huskies since 1985, has amassed a dominating 802-128 record, good for the winningest record among current women's basketball coaches (.862), and is one of the best in the game.
Just how dominant has Auriemma been at Connecticut? Take a look at the stats:
- 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances
- 7 National Championships (2nd only to Tennessee's Pat Summitt)
- 12 Final Four appearances
- 4 undefeated seasons (out of 6 total in the sport)
- Coached standout players like Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi, and Maya Moore
- Holds a 100% graduation rate amongst 4-year players
It's been five years since Auriemma didn't take the Huskies to the Final Four, and seven since they lost in the Sweet Sixteen. Coming into the tournament at #3 in the nation, tournament expectations are high for UConn again.
This year's team, though not quite as dominant as the undefeated squads of the past few years, is chock full of talent, led by senior Tiffany Hayes and sophomore Bria Hartley, both named to the All-Big East first team. Also look for freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Big East Freshman and Sixth man of the year, to try to dominate.
Where there's no question they've been dominant, however, is whenever the Huskies' opponents have the ball. Coming into this match up with Penn State, UConn is #1 in the nation in points allowed. This stifling defense was on display for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament; they beat Prairie View A&M 83-47, then went on to demolish Kansas State 72-26, setting a new record for fewest points allowed in a first or second round NCAA tournament game.
History isn't kind to the Lady Lions when it comes to this opponent. Connecticut has a 6-3 head to head record against PSU, including three victories in the NCAA tournament, and the last six games between the two teams have all gone the Huskies' way. The last big matchup was in the 2004 tournament, when UConn beat the #1 ranked Lady Lions to advance to the Final Four.
But this match up should be far from the cake walk the Huskies have experienced so far in the tournament. If sophomore Maggie Lucas and junior Alex Bentley can break through UConn's D and get points on the board, look for the game to be a close one. Mental toughness may also be a factor in the outcome; the Sweet Sixteen, while an expectation for any UConn squad, is a position no current Lady Lion has ever been in before, after losing last year at home in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In the end, while the game should be closer than many UConn supporters expect, look for 2013 to be the year the Lady Lions get past this round and make a legitimate run at the NCAA crown.