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Stanford and UConn ready for early-season test

Sunday - 11/10/2013, 12:38pm  ET

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma speaks with guards Bria Hartley (14) and Connecticut guards Moriah Jefferson (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Hartford, in Hartford, Conn., on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. Jefferson scored a game-high 17 points in Connecticut's 89-34 victory. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer

Stanford and UConn usually have a lot on the line when the two women's basketball powers play.

While there are no major streaks or Final Four wins at stake Monday night, this early-season matchup between the top-ranked Huskies and No. 3 Cardinal still has a lot of intrigue.

"They're the standard right now in women's basketball," Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike said. "Everyone expects them to repeat, and we're just up there trying to compete. We're excited. We don't back down. I think that's the No. 1 thing I'm telling my team. Don't back down. Be aggressive. Be competitive and play Stanford basketball."

The game against the Cardinal begins a tough eight-day stretch for the Huskies. UConn will visit No. 8 Maryland on Friday night before heading to Penn State to take on the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions.

"You are going to have (these games) at the end of the season, in the NCAA tournament," sophomore sensation Breanna Stewart said. "But I think it's great to have them at the beginning, just because it really tests you. It tests you to see how quickly you've learned already.

"I think that having it under your belt so early will make people comfortable, because they'll be like, 'Oh, we've already played someone like Stanford before, or Maryland or Penn State,' so that when we have to play those big teams later on, it's just another team."

The two teams, on opposite coasts, have had a lot of big games over the past few seasons. Last year UConn snapped Stanford's 82-game unbeaten run at Maples Pavilion with an easy 61-35 victory. A fact that UConn coach Geno Auriemma feels is still fresh on the minds of the Cardinal players.

"When you're a proud program, like they are, and have accomplished what they've accomplished over the years, I'm sure it didn't go over very well and I'm sure that will be mentioned a few times before Monday night," he said.

He should know. Two years earlier the Cardinal ended the Huskies' NCAA record 90-game winning streak. They also met in the Final Four or NCAA championship game three straight years from 2008-10.

"Unlike the NCAA tournament, where there is no Tuesday if you don't win Monday, it is kind of different," Auriemma said.

Even with a lot less on the line Monday night, the game is being hyped up plenty. Both coaches are trying to downplay it.

"The approach that has helped us the most in the last 10 years is probably one of it's November, we're home, we're playing a really good team," Auriemma said. "It's national television and we want to go out and play great and Tuesday morning we get to get ready for Friday and Sunday."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer agreed.

"It's early in the season and really is just a barometer for where we are at this point in the season," she said. "I wish it was a little later in the year."

While a win would be huge for the Cardinal, it also could put a lot of pressure on a young team that has five freshmen on the roster.

Stanford was in a similar position last season as the Cardinal faced No. 1 Baylor in Hawaii in November and weren't given much of a chance. Stanford came away with a shocking two-point victory that snapped the Lady Bears' 42-game winning streak.

The two teams will play on Connecticut's campus for the first time since 1993. The Cardinal won that game 68-54. It's their last victory in the state of Connecticut.

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Associated Press Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Storrs, Conn., and AP Freelancer Doug Alden in Boston contributed to this story.

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Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg


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