Bridgeport - Brenda Frese admitted Friday that she wanted UConn on her team's regular season schedule because she projected her team's ability to compete in the Final Four. Translation: Play them and gauge them so there aren't any surprises under the spotlight's greatest glare.
Funny, though, how her team won't bear much resemblance today in the regional semifinals at Webster Bank Arena to the one that lost to the Huskies in December. UConn's 63-48 victory came a few days after starting guard Laurin Mincy tore a knee ligament, which came five weeks after Brene Moseley, Maryland's other backcourt starter, tore one of hers.
And yet despite the injuries, the fourth-seeded Terps (26-7) have made their way to the Sweet 16 and get No. 1 UConn today at approximately 2:30 p.m. (ESPN), 30 minutes after the conclusion of the No. 2 Kentucky-No. 6 Delaware game.
"This is story a lot of people can embrace," Frese said Friday. "A team that never looked at excuses and has been resilient all year long."
Resiliency has been the byproduct of two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas' excellence. Thomas, likely drawing Kelly Faris as her primary defender today, has averaged 28.5 points per game thus far in the tournament. She is a skilled, 6-foot-2 forward.
"One of the things that makes (today) interesting is that Alyssa Thomas is a really good passer," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "When you look at some teams, their leading scorer can't pass. Those are the teams you love to play against because you know that kid will shoot every time she touches it. If you trap (Thomas), she finds people. Sometimes that's worse than letting her shoot the ball."
Thomas went 2-for-12 (six points) in the teams' last game. Doubtful today will be a repeat performance.
"The first time we played them was the game after Laurin Mincy went down with ACL," Frese said. "Alyssa felt like she had to put the team on her back and tried to do too much. … Connecticut is going to send waves at her. Kelly Faris is one of the best defenders in the country."
So, too, will the Terps send waves at UConn's frontcourt. Maryland has one of the nation's best with Thomas, forward Tianna Hawkins (potentially high WNBA draft pick) and center Alicia DeVaughn. They were quite physical with UConn freshman Breanna Stewart in Hartford, limiting her to 4-for-12 shooting with five turnovers.
UConn center Stefanie Dolson practiced Friday despite a tender right ankle and left foot. She'll play today.
"Our league (the ACC) is a very physical league," Frese said. "You have to bring a level of physicality. I think the women's game in general has ramped up the last four or five years. If you're not physical, you're going to have a hard time."