UConn and Syracuse have round 2 rematch of 2016 title game
STORRS, Conn. (AP) The second-round rematch of last year's national championship game between top-seed UConn and Syracuse on Monday may very well feature the best backcourt in the nation.
Which team has it depends on which team you ask.
Syracuse is not shy about touting the talent of senior guards Brittany Sykes and Alexis Peterson. The duo has averaged a combined 42 points and 10.5 assists this season for the Orange. Sykes had 28 points and Peterson 25 during Saturday's first-round win over Iowa State. The Orange also have freshman sharpshooter Gabby Cooper in their three-guard set. She put up 24 points in Saturday's 85-65 win, hitting a school-record eight 3-pointers.
''We bring our best every night and uphold that title of America's best backcourt and we want to do the same thing (Monday),'' said Sykes. ''So when we go out there, we're going to do what we need to and do what we've been doing all season.''
But UConn also has a pretty good trio.
Point guard Saniya Chong averages 8.2 points and has an assist to turnover ratio of almost 4 to 1. Katie Lou Samuelson puts up an average of 21 points from her wing spot and Kia Nurse averages 12.2 points. She had 24 in the Huskies' opening round 116-55 win over Albany.
''For not having the best backcourt in the country, we've had a pretty good year,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma quipped.
After 108 consecutive wins and 25 straight in the NCAA Tournament, Chong said the Huskies (33-0) take exception to a 22-10 team laying claim to the ''best backcourt'' title.
''We're going to go out, work really hard and basically we'll prove it on the court,'' she said.
''We've been scouting them,'' she added. ''We're going to take away what they do best and then we'll go from there.''
That's what the Huskies did last April, holding Sykes to just 12 points and Peterson to 11 in an 82-51 win in the title game.
''Hopefully, this time we can come out and play a little bit better and play a little bit better at the guard position and make it a different game,'' said Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman.
Some other things to watch for during Monday's rematch:
The Orange return four starters from last year's championship game, while UConn has just two players (Gabby Williams and Nurse), who played more than 15 minutes in the game.
Peterson believes that experience could be an advantage for the Orange.
''We played in that last game possible together,'' she said. ''And we were all vital in our run last year. So I think we can use that to know what it takes to get there.''
UConn's Samuelson missed the title game with a broken foot and she said that adds a little bit more to her motivation for Monday and beyond.
''There is a little fire inside of me,'' she said. ''I kind of remember that bittersweet feeling of winning, but not being able to play.''
BUILDING A WINNER
Syracuse has made it to the second round of the tournament in each of the last four years and UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he believes the Orange have built what it takes to be a consistent title contender.
But he said they will find out that it's not that easy to get back to the Final Four.
''I remember when we got there for the first time in 1991 it took us another four years to get there,'' he said. ''It takes a lot to maintain. ... You've got to keep getting the kind of players that can make you better and better and better. They certainly have all the things in place to be able to do that.''
RENEWING THE RIVALRY?
UConn and Syracuse have faced each other 50 times, with the Huskies winning 38 times.
But this may be the last game for a while between the former Big East rivals.
UConn tried to schedule a game last season at Syracuse, which would have allowed star Breanna Stewart to play in front of her hometown fans.
The Orange said no. Hillsman, who recruited Stewart heavily, said that his team's schedule was already full.
The Huskies settled for a game at Colgate on a night when Syracuse hosted Coppin State.
Auriemma said Sunday that the Huskies will play any team, any time in any location. But, he also made it clear he will not be pursuing any future out-of-conference series with the Orange.
''We don't ask twice,'' he said. ''We ask once. That's it.''