STORRS - UConn comes into this year's NCAA Tournament feeling a little disrespected and that could be bad news for the rest of the field.
The Huskies (31-2), who have been to 11 consecutive Final Fours, open play Friday evening in the Albany Region as a No. 2 seed against No. 15 seed Towson.
The Huskies expected to be the region's top seed with a No. 2 ranking in the polls, four wins over top-25 teams and losses only to top-five opponents Baylor and Louisville on the road.
“Obviously we don't agree with it, but there's nothing we can do about it,” said UConn forward Napheesa Collier, who is averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. “I think it does put a little bit more of a fire under our butts just because, like I said we don't agree with it, and we just want to prove to everyone that we should have been a one. We can be, and we're going to come out swinging.”
Coach Geno Auriemma notes that his teams have lost in the NCAA Tournament when they were a top seed and have won the national championship when they were not.
Being seeded second rather than first, means little more than having to pack both white and blue jerseys if they make it to Albany, where they could meet No. 1 seeded Louisville again.
“I mean, we're not in one of those conferences that perennially wins women's basketball national basketball championships, so we can't be expected to lose two games and not be dropped,” joked Auriemma, who is hoping to guide the Huskies to a 12th national title. “I'm just happy they kept us at two instead of four.”
Friday's game will mark the return for UConn of All-American Katie Lou Samuelson, who sat out the Huskies regular-season finale and the entire American Athletic Conference Tournament with a back injury.
Auriemma said the senior's shooting form has returned, but she not back to full mobility.
He said he never considered sitting Samuelson, who is averaging just under 19 points per game, in the first round.
“If I tell coach I'm good, then he's going to trust me,” Samuelson said. “He's going to believe me and he's going to let me do what I need to do.”
Other things to watch for in Storrs on Friday;
STRINGER STILL OUT
No. 7 seed Rutgers will face No. 10 seed Buffalo without Hall of Fame coach Vivian Stringer, who has not coached since late February because of an undisclosed illness.
Stringer, 71, is in her 24th year at Rutgers and 48th season of coaching.
Timothy Eatman, who has been serving as acting head coach. He filled the same role in 2016, when Stringer missed three games to care for and later mourn her mother.
“It's always hard when your head coach isn't around, but we have a great coaching staff and supporting staff,” Rutgers senior forward Stasha Carey said. "Coach Eatman knows what he's doing. He's been doing it pretty well the past couple games.
“The good thing is we have talked to her and she gave us some words of encouragement, so that made us feel a lot better,” Carey added. “And we are just going to take that and run with it as far as we can.”
DIVIDED FAN BASE
Buffalo's men's and women's teams will be playing at the same time. The women face Rutgers at 4:30 p.m. The men tip at 4 p.m. in Tulsa against Arizona State.
“Nate (men's coach Nate Oats) and I have had our moment were we've looked at each other and said ‘wow, what are we doing here?’” Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “It's really fun to go through this with what I call my brothers and to come out to the airport in Buffalo and see two planes that are headed in opposition directions to take the athletic department to postseason play.”
LEARNING TO WIN
Towson (20-12) had its first winning season since 2011-12, and had its most wins since 2007-08. The Tigers played just one ranked team this season, falling to Syracuse in December, 98-55.
“It's exciting for all of us,” Towson red-shirt sophomore guard Kionna Jeter said. “We've never been here before, so it's a great experience At the end of the day we still have to play basketball no matter the name or who we are playing.”