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Connecticut hopes to win its eighth national championship (tying Tennessee) and will start with a matchup against Prairie View.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma told the Huskies’ faithful in the preseason that this team wouldn’t win a national championship. But his young team has developed over the past five months, and Connecticut looks poised to make another run after beating Notre Dame for the Big East tournament title.

“If you have to rely just on momentum then you don’t have a good enough team,” Auriemma said. “We’ve got to hope we have a good enough team and then rely on momentum as an extra asset.”

The Irish also have been focused on winning a title after falling just short last season, losing in the championship game to Texas A&M, which is a No. 3 seed in the Raleigh region. The two teams could meet in the regional final.

Notre Dame, which will open up at home against Liberty, reached the national title game last year by knocking off UConn in the Final Four. It was the fourth straight season that UConn made the Final Four. The two teams, who already have played three times this year, could meet for a fourth time in Denver.

The Cardinal also have advanced four straight seasons to the Final Four, and coach Tara VanDerveer is looking to get her first title in 20 years. She’ll begin with a trip East to Norfolk, Va. to face Hampton. Stanford, which has won 28 straight games since its lone loss of the season to Connecticut, hasn’t been east of the Rockies since 2001, when they went to Oklahoma.

“Well last year at this time I don’t think anyone thought Texas A&M was going to win either,” VanDerveer said. “Baylor has had a great year. I think that Brittney Griner is a great player, she’s a tremendous talent. We know that every team is beatable. I hope we have a chance to play them. We want to go as far as we can. If that means playing Baylor, we’ll be ready.”

Standing in the way of a fifth trip to the Final Four could be second-seed Duke, which lost in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. The Blue Devils are led by talented freshman post Elizabeth Williams and sophomore guard Chelsea Grey and will face Samford in the opening round.

Another intriguing team in that region is third-seeded St. John’s, which ended UConn’s 99-game homecourt winning streak in February. The Red Storm have won 14 of their last 17 games after falling to the Huskies in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. Third seed St. John’s faces Creighton in its opener.

Missing from the tournament is North Carolina, which is hosting the first two rounds, but didn’t make the field for the first time since 2001.

While the Tar Heels will be missing, three schools _ Albany, St. Bonaventure and Florida Gulf Coast _ are making their first appearance, and the Big Ten has a conference record seven teams.

The Bonnies and Eagles will be meeting in the first round.


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