Texas coach Karen Aston hasn’t seen the tape from her first meeting with Connecticut, which came in the 2003 Final Four. The Longhorns lost by two that night when Aston was an assistant coach.
Now she’ll have to figure out a way to beat the top-seeded Huskies as Texas makes it first appearance in the Sweet 16 in 11 years when the teams play Saturday. The winner faces either Dayton or Louisville.
“I have a terrible memory of UConn,” Aston said, smiling. “It was the Final Four, I haven’t watched the tape, I burned it.”
While Texas was a perennial NCAA Tournament participant in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, the Longhorns haven’t had much success lately. They last appeared in the regional semifinals in 2004. The Longhorns haven’t played the Huskies since 2009. Few teams have had any success against UConn with a roster that hasn’t faced the Huskies before.
Since the Huskies won their first title in 1995, only Iowa State (1999) and Michigan State (2004) have been able to overcome the UConn mystique. Aston wasn’t sure how her team would react to the challenge.
“I don’t know if I can answer how our team will react to playing Connecticut,” Aston said. “We haven’t played them in a long time. Our schedule will help us somewhat because we have seen Tennessee, Stanford, Baylor three times. I think there are some things we can reflect back on.”
UConn is no stranger to the Sweet 16, having advanced that far the past 22 seasons. The Huskies will continue their quest for a third straight national championship.
Coach Geno Auriemma doesn’t put too much stock in the Huskies’ experience advantage over the Longhorns.
“Common sense would say yeah,” Auriemma said. “You would think it means something having been there a bunch of times, but you still got to play the game and still got to play well. … When the game starts, all that other stuff goes out the window.”
Auriemma was impressed with Texas and how the Longhorns have overcome a bunch of injuries throughout the year, including a season-ending one to star Nneka Enemkpali.
“When you start the season and have a certain team and look up and one kid’s gone and then another kid’s gone.
Everything you prepare for has to change. Starting over again if it’s Oct. 15 is one thing, but to do it in the middle of the season, that’s very different.
“They are playing well at the right time. They went through a stretch when they really struggled, but … they found themselves these last few weeks.”
Here are other things to know about the game:
HOMECOMING: UConn star Breanna Stewart has already had some success in Albany, winning the New York State title her senior season in high school at the Times Union Center, which is hosting the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a throwback here to my junior and senior year of high school,” Stewart said. “Junior year we lost here, but my senior year we won, and I finished my senior season on a winning note. It’s cool to be able to come back here.”
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: Texas freshman Ariel Atkins was 8 years old when she first met UConn junior Moriah Jefferson. Atkins says she looked up to Jefferson and Texas guard Empress Davenport, who played together for the Lady Panther AAU team in Texas. Atkins and fellow Texas freshman Tasia Foman played on a younger team in the same organization.
“They were so cool, and they were like big sisters to us,” Atkins said.
Jefferson says she has similar relationships with most of the Texas team, playing either with or against them while growing up in Glenn Heights, Texas. She is best friends with one of Atkins’ cousins and remembers all of them playing basketball for hours together in the summer.
“(Atkins) was always around when we used to work out together,” she said.
Atkins says “Mo” was always very competitive, and isn’t surprised she ended up at UConn.
“I honestly can’t remember a game we lost when we were younger, our younger team and our older team. That’s how competitive we all were.”
CENTURY MARK: With a victory on Saturday, Auriemma will become the second coach to win 100 NCAA Tournament games. He’ll join Pat Summitt, who finished with 112 victories in her career, as the only coaches to reach that milestone.
TOOTHACHE: Texas star Davenport missed the media availability to take care of a dental issue. She made it back in time to join the Longhorns on the court just after the 15-minute availability.
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