The Albany Region was universally hailed as the toughest region in this year’s NCAA Women's Tournament. So, nobody thought it was going to be easy for the UCLA Bruins. First, the Bruins made it past the Tennessee Volunteers, the team with the most victories in NCAA Division I women’s college basketball history. Next, the Bruins took the underdog role when they faced the No. 3 seeded Maryland Terrapins and they walked away with a hard fought 85-80 victory.
Now, all the Bruins have to do is face the No. 2 seeded Connecticut Huskies this afternoon at 4:00 pm PT at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York.
We all know the UConn Huskies have been a dominant force in women’s basketball for a very long time, but their Sunday night victory over the Buffalo Bulls, 84-72 further highlighted this dominance as it earned them an astounding 26th consecutive berth in the Sweet 16. Let me also add, the Huskies haven’t lost a Sweet 16 game since 2005, when Stanford beat them.
So, what do the Huskies bring to the table this year? Well, they bring a team that has one of the best players in the nation—senior forward Napheesa Collier. Curiously, Collier was not included as one of the four finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year award that was announced on March 19, but she didn’t let that bother her as she went out and scored 29 points with 16 rebounds and eight assists against Buffalo.
Collier is averaging 21.1 points and 10.7 rebounds this year and is a walking double-double as she has had 22 this year. Collier is an active and athletic forward that pretty much gets to the basket at will and loves to get out and run. Her 61.9% field goal percentage pretty much confirms the types of shots she gets.
If UCLA is going to have to stay in front of Collier, they’re really going to have to stay in front of the versatile 6-3 guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson. Samuelson is second on the team in scoring (18.5), 3-point percentage (.373), rebounds (6.7) and assists (3.9).
Samuelson has been battling an injury to her back and she returned Friday against the Towson Tigers after missing the previous four games. She will definitely be another UConn player the Bruins will have to contain if they are going to walk away with a victory Friday.
UCLA has been one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, and if there is an area of concern for the Huskies, it’s rebounding. The Huskies gave up 25 offensive rebounds to Buffalo, but rest assured that Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma will attempt to fix that against the Bruins.
To say UCLA has struggled against UConn through the years is an understatement. They are 0-5 against UConn, including a Sweet 16 loss to the Huskies in 2017.
While it’s crazy to say that a 33-2 team might not be as dominant as in years past, that might be the case for this team. After the Buffalo game, Coach Auriemma said, “It’s a razor-thin margin that we operate with this year,” In previous years, the Huskies could play a poor game and still win. At this point in the tournament, with the teams that remain, the Huskies will definitely not get by with anything other than their A game.