INDIANAPOLIS – Tom Petty once said that the waiting was the hardest part, though it might not be readily clear what exactly the legendary rock icon was waiting for.
BR-1 Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma can certainly relate to that as his Huskies prepare to take on BR-3 Oregon State in the D1 Women’s Basketball Final Four semifinal inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse Sunday.
“You get here and it’s one thing after another,” Auriemma said. “They make time for everything except getting ready for the game. That almost becomes an afterthought.”
What’s far from an afterthought is the Huskies’ quest for a fourth straight national championship.
“This was our goal coming in and for us to be here it was a big part of it,” said UConn junior forward Morgan Tuck. “We’re ready to start the tournament and start playing tomorrow and just trying to get through all the things we have to do today and just trying to enjoy it.”
For the Beavers, making their first Final Four appearance in program history, senior guard Jamie Weisner isn’t worried about being on the wrong end of history when they face UConn.
“You can’t lose the game before you step foot on the court,” Weisner said. “We know what we’ve done to get this far and we just have to stick to that.”
UConn’s consensus All-American forward Breanna Stewart will will be up against a formidable Oregon State defenders in Ruth Hamblin.
“The thing that impresses me the most is she’s obviously tall and has length,” Stewart said. “But it’s the way she uses it, she uses her body really well and doesn’t initiate contact to get a foul and that kind of stuff. And even when the ball is coming around the perimeter, she’s still doing her best to contest that.”
Hamblin has some familiarity with Stewart and senior guard Moriah Jefferson, having played for Team Canada against UConn’s power duo, representing the U.S., in last summer’s Pan-American Games in Toronto. Hamblin’s Canadian squad held Stewart without an assist in an 83-71 win in the gold medal game while holding Jefferson to 5-of-13 shooting from the field.
Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck was an assistant coach on the American squad.
“That was such a grind of a tournament,” Rueck said. “We’re playing in Canada with a packed house, rooting all against us. And so it’s ironic that here I am with those guys now in this environment.”
So, how does Oregon State prepare to face a UConn squad which has won 73 straight games dating back to early last season?
“You look at what they do well and you try to game plan against it,” Rueck said. “You look at what you feel like might be a crack and you try to game plan into it. And that is identical to game one that we played this year and game 20 that we played this year.”
For Auriemma, who’s making his 17th appearance in the Final Four, and ninth in a row, “the trick in coming here is to make it feel like it’s the first time all the time” for the younger players who have never experienced the hoopla of the Final Four.
“Sometimes that’s hard to do because everybody just expects you to treat it like it’s the same old thing,” Auriemma said. “You have to work hard at making sure that it’s like the first time, and the emotions have to be the same. My emotions are a little bit different today than they were in 1995 when we went to Minneapolis (for UConn’s first national title win).”
|4||Moriah Jefferson||G||Sr.||5'7"||Glenn Heights, Texas||12.5 ppg, 55.2% FG, 91.1% FT|
|11||Kia Nurse||G||Soph.||6'0"||Hamilton, Ontario, Canada||9.3 ppg, 44.0% FG|
|33||Katie Lou Samuelson||G/F||Fr.||6'3"||Huntington Beach, Calif.||11.4 ppg, 49.5% FG, 83.7% FT|
|3||Morgan Tuck||F||Sr.||6'2"||Bolingbrook, Ill.||13.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 51.2% FG|
|30||Breanna Stewart||F||Sr.||6'4"||North Syracuse, N.Y.||19.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 58.3% FG|
|11||Gabriella Hanson||G||Jr.||5'11"||Anaheim, Calif.||7.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg|
|15||Jamie Weisner||G||Sr.||5'10"||Clarkston, Wash.||17.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg|
|24||Sydney Wiese||G||Jr.||6'0"||Phoenix, Ariz.||12.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.1 apg|
|32||Deven Hunter||F||Sr.||6'3"||Keizer, Ore.||6.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg|
|44||Ruth Hamblin||C||Sr.||6'6"||Houston, B.C., Canada||11.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.4 bpg|