- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

EAST HARTFORD, CONN. (AP) - Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma says he doesn’t think his Huskies will win an eighth national title this season.

Auriemma told a group of business leaders Wednesday that while fans have come to believe that UConn should play for a championship every year, those expectations are not realistic for a team that no longer includes two-time national player of the year Maya Moore.

Moore led UConn to four straight Final Four appearances and national titles in 2009 and 2010 before becoming the top pick in this year’s WNBA draft after graduated in the spring.

“I wouldn’t want to lower the expectations,” Auriemma said during an appearance at an East Hartford Chamber of Commerce breakfast. “But I will say, I don’t think we’re going to win a national championship this year. Sorry, I would like to, but I don’t think we are. Now if the other guys screw up, which they are capable of doing, then we’ve got a chance.”

Auriemma said those “other guys” _ the teams who should be favored to win _ are Notre Dame, Tennessee and Baylor, each of whom return a veteran core.

The coach puts UConn on the next tier of about six or eight programs with a chance to be very good.

The Huskies, who went 36-2 and lost to Notre Dame in last year’s national semifinals, return a talented group of players, including guards Bria Hartley and Tiffany Hayes, and center Stephanie Dolson.

They will be joined by a highly touted recruiting class led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a player Auriemma said may be the best pure shooter he’s ever had at UConn. Seven of the 11 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores.

“I think we can be as good as anybody in the country, but our inexperience might cost us,” he said.

“I think we’ve got some pretty good kids that have been standing around for the last couple of years watching Maya play and now they’re going to get a chance to play and they’re going to get a chance to show everybody, `This is what I do,” he added.

He said the Huskies also may be hurt by a lack of depth at center, where Dolson played the bulk of the minutes last season, averaging over 10 points and six rebounds a game. He is hoping junior Heather Buck and 6-foot-3 freshman Kiah Stokes can give her some help this year.

Stokes, Mosqueda-Lewis and point guard Brianna Banks are likely to see significant playing time as freshmen, he said.

But the key to UConn’s success may be the play of junior guard Caroline Doty, who sat out last season with her third major knee injury. She can shoot the jumper, run the offense and has already played on championship teams, Auriemma said.

“If we had Caroline on the floor last year, I think things might have been a little bit different at the Final Four,” he said.

The Huskies open the season against Holy Cross on Nov. 13, but already have played several exhibition games together during a trip to Italy in August.

Auriemma said the Huskies didn’t face any stiff competition overseas, but the trip helped him valuate where his team stands going into the season, and where it might end up.

“It’s one of those years where we’re going to have to catch a couple of breaks, which is good,” Auriemma said. “But next year and the year after,” he deadpanned, “we won’t lose a game.”

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