No. 2 UConn is expected to get a No. 1 seed Monday in the NCAA Tournament for a 13th consecutive year, but this one feels a little different.
The Huskies have a regular-season loss (two in fact), for the first time since 2014. They also begin play with a big question mark surrounding All-American Katie Lou Samuelson.
The senior sharpshooter, who averages nearly 19 points, missed the last game of the regular season and the entire American Athletic Conference Tournament with a back injury.
Samuelson is expected to return for the NCAA Tournament, but coach Geno Auriemma said he understands his team is considered vulnerable.
“I don’t think anybody’s being wrong when they say, ‘We wouldn’t pick Connecticut to win the national championship or go to the Final Four,’” Auriemma said. “I’m not surprised at all. I think they’re right. I think it should be that way. I mean, we’ve been to 11 in a row. What, are we going to go to 30 in a row?”
It’s not that the Huskies (31-2) are bad or even just very good. Even without Samuelson they cruised through the AAC Tournament, winning their three games by an average of 28 points.
But in addition to their two losses — 68-57 to Baylor and 69-78 to Louisville — they’ve had some moments this season where weaknesses have been exposed.
Depth and defense are both concerns. The UConn bench is averaging just 10.7 points and the Huskies trailed in both of their final regular-season games by double-digits before rallying to win.
But AAC player of the year Napheesa Collier, who is averaging a double-double this season (20.9 points, 10.5 rebounds) said the team keeps improving.
“Especially in our losses this year, we learned a lot,” she said. “We were put in situations where now, if we were to get down, we’re not panicking, because we know we’ve been in that situation.”
UConn has been to the Final Four 11 straight seasons and is aiming for its 12th national championship in the last 25 years.
The Huskies are expected to be the top seed in the Albany Regional, again playing the first two rounds on their home court in Storrs.
AMERICAN EAST: At Bangor, Maine, Blanca Millan scored 19 points, Fanny Wadling picked up a double-double and her 500th career rebound and Maine pulled away in the second half to defeat Hartford 68-48 in the American East tournament championship for its second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Black Bears (25-7), who have won 14 straight since losing 49-46 at Harford, are headed to the NCAA’s for the ninth time.