Old conference foes will meet again in the second round of the NCAA Tournament tonight in Storrs.
The No.1 seed UConn Huskies will take on the No. 8 seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the first meeting between the two teams since 2014 when both teams were members of the American Conference after years together in the Big East.
Although the two teams have history with each other, UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma does not want his team approaching the game any differently.
“We’ve had some great games against Rutgers in the past and we’ve had some blowout games against Rutgers in the past,” Auriemma said. “It’s two good teams playing and it’s the NCAA Tournament so you would expect that whoever you are playing on Monday night is going to come out with a sense of purpose. I am sure that is exactly what Rutgers is going to do.”
Going up against the top seed in the tournament on their home court, Rutgers knows that they will have to overcome many challenges. One of the biggest challenges they will face is the mental hurdle of playing against Connecticut. Rutgers head coach Vivian Stringer is glad to see that her players will not be intimidated.
“I think they are anxious to play but we fully know this is a great team,” Stringer said. “I love their courage, their attitude and respect that and expect that we are going to step out there and we are going to play basketball.”
For Rutgers to play their best they will need a strong effort from senior Betnijah Laney. Laney is Rutgers second leading scorer with 15.9 points per game and the teams leading rebounder with 10.9 rebounds per game. As a senior, Laney is embracing the underdog role in her last chance to beat the Huskies.
“We definitely respect them and what they have done but are we intimidated? No not at all,’ Laney said.
Besides Laney, Rutgers gets most of their scoring from junior forward Kahleah Cooper and sophomore guard Tyler Scaife. Cooper averages 16.5 points per game and Scaife averages 14.8 points per game. No other player on Rutgers averages more than 7 points per game.
Rutgers will be challenged to keep pace with a UConn team that has one of the most balanced offenses in the country. UConn leads the nation in scoring and has five players that are averaging over 10 points per game.
Over the years many teams have said UConn does not intimidate them before games. But for the Huskies, the best way to test if that is true is on the court.
“A lot of teams will talk and say they are not intimidated,” Moriah Jefferson, junior guard for UConn, said. “A lot of times you can tell when you actually get on the court and you kind of look in their eyes. You can definitely see the difference between a team that is about to come at you and a team that is going to drop back a little bit.
The two teams last met in the postseason during the Elite Eight of the 2008 Tournament where UConn won 66-56.
The game will tip off at 9 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.