BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) Texas and UCLA bring two rising programs into their NCAA regional semifinal Saturday.
The second-seeded Longhorns (30-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year. The Bruins (26-8) have the nation's second-longest postseason winning streak after winning the WNIT a year ago.
Texas has been steadily improving in the four years Karen Aston has been coach. After missing the NCAA Tournament in her first season, the Longhorns won a first-round game in 2014 and last year made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champion UConn, 105-54.
''Each year they have learned a little bit more about what it takes to compete at the highest level,'' Aston said. ''And now, we have four seniors that absolutely know the day-to-day work that it takes.''
The Longhorns are hoping to make it at least a round further this season, where another game with the top-seeded Huskies is possible. But first, they must get by UCLA.
The Bruins have won 10 of their last 12 games and are riding an eight-game postseason winning streak, second only to UConn's 20-games.
Coach Cori Close said last year's run to the WNIT championship prepared her team well for this season's NCAA Tournament.
''It gave us confidence about winning in tough environments and circumstances,'' she said. ''I think it taught us, `What does it take?' And that feeling of winning six games in a row and it sort of follows a similar path to the NCAA Tournament in terms of those rhythms.
UCLA also played one of the nation's toughest schedules this season, going 14-4 in the Pac-12, which had four teams make it past the second round.
''Playing in the No. 1 RPI conference, the Pac-12, with so many great players and great teams, just being able to play against them and battle against them, it's just helped us through this whole run,'' guard Jordin Canada said.
Other tidbits from Saturday's game between Texas and UCLA:
Texas beat UCLA last season, 75-65 in Los Angeles. But Canada doesn't believe that contest can be used as a measuring stick for Saturday's matchup.
''We were very young and inexperienced - 10 players that never played together last year,'' she said. ''So now we have better chemistry and we have been playing really well this season.''
UCLA's Jordin Canada and Texas center Imani Boyette played together for two seasons at Windward High School in Los Angeles. Canada says they haven't spoken since, but she believes knowing Boyette's game will help the Bruins on Saturday.
''Obviously, everybody makes mistakes, so it's just being able to take advantage of those moments,'' she said.
Boyette also played on travel teams as a youngster with UCLA's Kacy Swain and against the Bruin's Kari Korver.
''It's going to be fun, because you grow up playing against each other,'' she said.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Top-ranked UConn, which hasn't lost an NCAA Tournament game since falling to Notre Dame in the 2012 national semifinals is on the other side of the region's bracket.
Aston said her players believed their body of work this season should have kept them out of UConn's region. But since the pairings were announced, her players have embraced the challenge and are taking on each opponent as it comes.
''They have never looked ahead and thought, `Oh, what's going to happen if we have to do this and this,''' she said. ''That is just not the way this team is built.