The UConn women’s basketball team has made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament for a record 22 consecutive seasons.
On Saturday, the Huskies will continue its run to the programs 10th national championship when they face the No. 5 seed Texas Longhorns in Albany, New York.
“It’s not just because we’re Connecticut, it’s not just because we have the best players, it’s not just because the NCAA or anybody is going to give it to us because we’ve been there so many times,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after the team’s second round win over Rutgers. “We have to earn it every year.”
UConn (34-1) has definitely earned it this season. The Huskies blew through their conference schedule with ease, with the only hiccup coming early in the season against Stanford Nov. 17.
“Sometimes you take it for granted and you realize that if it was that easy a lot of more people would have done it,” Auriemma said. “It’s not easy. We do certain things to put ourselves in position to win these games.”
After receiving a mostly balanced effort in the first round against St. Francis-Brooklyn, the Huskies relied on senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to lead them past Rutgers. Mosqueda-Lewis scored 23 points, the most she’s ever scored in a NCAA tournament game, to lead UConn into the Sweet 16.
“She (Mosqueda-Lewis) knows that in March its time to step it up to another level,” Breanna Stewart said.
Saturday’s meeting will be the sixth time that the Huskies and Longhorns have taken the floor against one another, and it will be the third time that they’ve played in the NCAA tournament. UConn leads the all-time series 5-0.
Although the starters produce most of the scoring for UConn, the bench has been playing extremely well, starting with freshman Gabby Williams.
“The people that came in off the bench were really sparks for us,” Mosqueda-Lewis said after the win over Rutgers.
Williams has scored in double digits in both tournament games. Williams, Kiah Stokes and Saniya Chong have come off the bench to take some of the pressure off the starters.
Texas (24-10) also has a bench that produces. The Longhorns have outscored their opponent’s bench by an average of 20.5 points over the last nine games.
The Longhorns also rebound the ball well, outrebounding their opponents in 31 of the team’s 34 games this year.
Texas has three players scoring in double digits, led by Nneka Enemkpali (12.4), Kelsey Lang (10.7) and Imani McGee-Stafford (10).
The Huskies hold a 22-2 record all time in the Sweet 16. With a win on Saturday, UConn will notch its 100th NCAA tournament victory.