Top-ranked UConn women look for fourth straight title
Breanna Stewart said as a freshman that she wanted to win four national championships in her time at UConn. Now with her senior season set to begin Friday, she is just one title away from fulfilling her goal.
With most of the team back from last year's championship, it's hard to see UConn not accomplishing the unprecedented feat.
''We don't feel the pressure,'' Stewart said. ''It excites us. We know it's there. We know what we've done and the position that we've put ourselves in to be extremely successful.''
Coach Geno Auriemma hopes his team is in Indianapolis on April 5 playing for that record-breaking title. This will be the first time that all three divisions of women's basketball will hold their title games in the same city. The Division II and III finals will be played the day before the Division I championship.
''I'm not one to think about the end of the season when the season hasn't even started yet,'' Auriemma said. ''And I'm not one to think that just because everyone thinks you should be playing that Tuesday night in that national championship game, that you're entitled to that. 'Cause that's tremendously disrespectful to all the other coaches.''
If UConn can win another title, the school's 11th, Auriemma will break a tie with UCLA men's coach John Wooden for the most all-time in college basketball.
The top-ranked Huskies have been in this position before, winning three straight championships from 2002-04. Yet with Diana Taurasi graduating in 2004, UConn failed to win a fourth consecutive title, losing in the Sweet 16.
UConn opens up at No. 6 Ohio State on Monday. Auriemma's squad will be tested in the regular season, facing five of the top 10 teams in the preseason poll, including a trip to South Carolina to meet the second-ranked Gamecocks.
Some things to watch this season in women's basketball:
OLD FACES IN NEW PLACES: After sitting out a season because of transfer rules, Diamond DeShields will try to get Tennessee back to the Final Four for the first time since 2008. DeShields, who was the consensus freshman of the year at North Carolina, transferred to Tennessee last year. Former Duke guard Alexis Jones will also be in action this season after heading to Baylor last year. She'll give the Lady Bears another offensive threat to complement Nina Davis.
NEW RULES: In a move to make the game more in line with the rest of the world, women's college basketball switched to playing four quarters this year instead of two halves. Other rules changes include shooting two free throws after five team fouls each quarter and allowing teams to advance the ball to the front court in the final minute of the fourth quarter and overtime after a timeout.
ENCORE: How does Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell improve on last season? The sophomore led the nation in scoring at 24.9 points a game and helped the Buckeyes reach the NCAA Tournament after missing it the previous two years.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD: For the first time in 16 years, Stanford wasn't picked to win its conference. No. 10 Oregon State is the favorite in the Pac-12, which has been dominated by the Cardinal.
LEAVING EARLY: Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B. both decided to leave college early last April to play in the WNBA. Don't expect that to be a trend as there are a small handful of athletes who meet the eligibility requirements to join the WNBA before their senior year. With top rookies making under $50,000, the financial benefits that are on the men's side don't exist.
GAMECOCK NATION: Coming off a stellar Final Four run, South Carolina has already sold over 11,000 season tickets. Dawn Staley's team led the nation in home attendance last year, averaging more than 12,000 fans. Not bad for a team that two years earlier had fewer than 4,000 fans showing up to games.
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