STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Top-seed UConn streaks into the second round of the NCAA Tournament having won 117 of its last 118 games, including 70 in a row and 107 straight against unranked opponents.
The Huskies opponent, Duquesne (28-5), is looking to put together consecutive wins after advancing in its first-ever NCAA Tournament game.
But the Dukes say they aren’t nervous or in awe as they prepare to face the three-time defending national champions Monday night on UConn’s home court.
“If you are composed and confident, I mean really confident and composed, then every zoo is a petting zoo,” said coach Dan Burt. “If we show great composure tomorrow and have great confidence, we’ll see if we can pet the Husky.”
UConn (33-0) will be looking to bite off a hand or two.
The Huskies jumped out to a 41-4 first-quarter lead in their 101-49 first-round win over Robert Morris and star Breanna Stewart said they will try to do something similar against Duquesne.
“We want to make sure that we knock them out from the start, so that they have no thoughts that they can be in this game,” she said.
But Burt said his team knows that initial barrage is coming. He believes that if the Dukes can match the Huskies physically during the first five minutes and then hit enough 3s, anything is possible. The third-year head coach said every player he recruits can shoot from 3-point range and has the green light to try whenever they are open.
“I’m not going to get caught up in (UConn’s) greatness,” said forward Deva’Nyar Workman, who scored a career-high 25 points in the Dukes 97-76 win over Seton Hall on Saturday. “I can play too. I’m going to play to the best of my ability against them. I’m not going to back down at all.”
The Huskies acknowledge that most of the pressure will be on them. But Kia Nurse said they have learned how to approach every game the same way, something she believes has been the key to the Huskies consistency.
“The people who came before us were the same way,” Nurse said. “They were locked in and ready to go for every single game.”
UConn’s top players will be dealing with some added emotion on Monday.
This will be the last game in Gampel Pavilion for Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and likely Morgan Tuck, who plans to announce after the season whether she will forgo the extra year of eligibility she received after losing most of her sophomore year to a knee injury.
Stewart said she’s hopeful they won’t respond as they did on senior night, when the trio opened 5 of 24 from the field after being honored before the game. They trailed in that one after a quarter before beating Tulane by 40 points.
“It’s going to be a mixture of emotions,” Stewart said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament, so it’s exciting, but also there’s the fact that I’m not going to suit up in a UConn uniform on that court again.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said if the Huskies play at the top of their game, nothing Duquesne can do will affect the outcome. He also expects the Duke players will be nervous, no matter what they say in public.
“Their season is going to end tomorrow night or they are going to win,” he said. “So, whenever you are on the verge of our season ending or doing something amazing, you wouldn’t be nervous? If they are saying they’re not nervous, they’re lying.”
Duquesne: The Dukes feature six players from foreign countries, and Burt said that is part of the reason they are not fazed by the star power of UConn.
“Those are kids that are very well known in their country for being, if not the best player in their age group, then one of the best,” he said.
UConn: Since Geno Auriemma arrived in Storrs, only one four-year player at the school has failed to reach a Final Four. Kris Lamb, who played from 1986 to 1990 made it as a graduate-assistant coach for the Huskies in 1991. Lamb was an assistant coach for Duquesne the only other time the Huskies played the Dukes, an 88-60 UConn win in 1995.