Louisville - They arrived here as a defending national champion with something to prove. It's a spot that UConn and its fiercely competitive coach Jim Calhoun are comfortable with.
A bumpy regular season is behind them. The enormous burden of expectations that weighed on them so heavily at times this season has lifted.
The Huskies are relaxed and ready to start a new postseason journey in an unfamiliar position as the ninth seed in the South Region.
"I know we're going to be called defending champs," Calhoun said. "I understand that. But I always felt this team pushed too hard, too much to try to be something it wasn't yet. And that's somewhat why we had an up and down season for us.
"I do think, just the way things broke, it became kind of, let's go get it. We've got to get into the NCAA tournament. Here's what we've got to do, and we did it. I think they're not chasing something now. They're playing basketball."
UConn (20-13) faces an enormous challenge tonight in its NCAA opener, playing a tough Big 12 foe in eighth-seeded Iowa State (22-10) at approximately 9:20 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center. The Cyclones own an impressive resume and play a unique brand of basketball.
Despite a lack of NCAA tournament experience, the Cyclones will not be intimidated playing the defending national champion.
"I mean, Kemba Walker is not coming back, is he?" Iowa State senior Scott Christopherson said. "Obviously, we know Connecticut is one of the most stories programs in all of college basketball. We know they're the defending national champs, so they've got a ton of talent.
"We feel like we earned our way to be here, too. We respect them, but I don't think there's a fear factor with them at all."
The fear, as far as UConn is concerned, is the depth of deadly perimeter shooters on the Iowa State team. The Cyclones are three-point specialists, converting a Big 12 best 8.9 3-pointers per game. Their offense runs through versatile sophomore Royce White, an agile 6-foot-8, 270-pound forward.
It appears to be a nightmare matchup for the Huskies, who finished next to last in the Big East in defending the 3-pointer.
But, as Calhoun pointed out Wednesday, the Huskies have improved their perimeter defense during a recent resurgence that saw them win three of their last four games. They'll attempt tonight to force shooters off the 3-point line.
"They're a great three-point shooting team, and if we let them get open shots, they're going to knock them down," sophomore Jeremy Lamb said.
UConn can pose its share of problems. The Huskies are bigger and stronger inside and their ability to protect the rim could create issues for the Cyclones.
"Coach says he feels that we can get it inside and he feels we can just outrun their bigs, so that's what we've been focusing on," junior Alex Oriakhi said.
Iowa State hasn't played a team quite like UConn, according to coach Fred Hoiberg who's built a dangerous team around five Division I transfers.
"They're so tough to score on in the paint," Hoiberg said. "Those two big guys (Oriakhi and Andre Drummond) make it very difficult, especially for our guys. We're not the biggest team. But when we have an open shot, we're going to take it."
The Huskies also have a tournament-tested coach. Calhoun, who'll be coaching his 60th NCAA game, has won 16 of 17 tournament openers during his UConn career.
"I definitely think we're ready for this," Oriakhi said. "Coach said we found ourselves. We're definitely playing harder and definitely fighting. And that's the most important thing. … You just get the feeling everybody is all in and everybody wants to win."