BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Geno Auriemma hasn’t lost too many NCAA tournament games in the state of Connecticut.
The Hall of Fame coach was hard pressed to remember a harder regional than the one his Huskies will face this weekend. UConn opens up in the semifinals against Maryland on Saturday. Second-seeded Kentucky will face Elena Delle Donne and No. 6 Delaware in the other game.
“There are four great teams, lots of marquee names, lots of interesting side stories, and that leads to a great environment,” said Auriemma, whose team has won 41 of its past 42 NCAA games in the state.
UConn’s lone blemish came against Duke in 2006 in the regional final. That game was also played in Bridgeport.
If Delaware and UConn do make it through, it would set up an intriguing finals matchup. Delle Donne signed with UConn but abruptly left school after a short stay to return home to Delaware.
“I haven’t allowed myself to think about that,” Delle Donne said. “All year our team has said just focus on the next game.”
Delle Donne is one of three reigning conference players of the year in Bridgeport. Many fans might be surprised to learn UConn is the only team that doesn’t have one.
“I think this is one of the more difficult first-round games of the regionals. And the other game, yeah, you got really good players on every team,” Auriemma said. “I’m sure every region has got their own, but I don’t know that anyone has more than what exists here. Kentucky’s back again and Maryland’s in again.”
The Huskies have already played the Terrapins earlier this season, beating Maryland by 15 points in the Jimmy V Classic in December. The first game features two stars in Delle Donne and two-time SEC player of the year A’dia Mathies of Kentucky. The Wildcats are happy that a flu bug that ran through the team in the first two rounds has run its course.
Delaware played its first two games at home in front of a loud raucous crowd that included Vice President Joe Biden. Coach Tina Martin wasn’t sure if he’d be in attendance this weekend.
“I can’t speak to the vice president’s schedule. He’s a good luck charm as we haven’t lost when he’s been in the stands,” Martin said.
Bridgeport was a late addition as a regional site after the NCAA moved it from Trenton, N.J., in November, citing a new law that allowed gambling on college sports in New Jersey. The late switch didn’t seem to affect ticket sales, as Saturday’s session is sold out with nearly 8,600 fans expected.