Not much has changed in women’s basketball since Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies won their ninth national championship last April.
The Huskies still have the best player in the country in Breanna Stewart and a strong supporting cast around the junior forward. Auriemma’s team has won 46 straight games and heads into another season with a legitimate chance of winning a 10th national championship.
“As long as I’m at Connecticut they’ll be expectations for us to win national championships and anything less is considered a lost season,” Auriemma said. “We have a good group back and we’ll see how things play out.”
Auriemma hopes that this season ends the same as the last two: with a national title. Only Tennessee and his Huskies have won three consecutive national crowns.
One team standing in the way is Stanford.
The teams will square off in an early season showdown.
Top-ranked UConn starts play Nov. 14 with a trip out west to face UC Davis and then a matchup with No. 6 Stanford. It will be a different look for the Cardinal this year as coach Tara VanDerveer for the first time in seven years doesn’t have an Ogwumike sister on the team with Chiney’s graduation last spring.
Don’t expect a pity party for Stanford from the rest of the Pac-12, one of the deepest conferences in the country.
“I for one am really excited we don’t have an Ogwumike at Stanford,” said USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who led the Trojans to the Pac-12 tournament title last season. “But Stanford will be equally as tough as they have been in the past.”
Some things to watch this season in women’s basketball:
CONFERENCE REALIGNMENTS: Louisville is in the ACC while Maryland and Rutgers have jumped to the Big 10. The American Athletic conference added a few more former Conference USA teams. Jeff Walz’s Cardinals enter a stacked ACC, where they will be reacquainted with Notre Dame. Muffet McGraw’s Irish squad won the ACC crown in its inaugural year in the conference en route to a remarkable season that ended with a loss to UConn in the title game. McGraw returns a talented group led by sensational junior guard Jewell Loyd and they are favored to repeat.
BACK AT CHAPEL HILL: Sylvia Hatchell returns to the sidelines at North Carolina after missing last season due to leukemia. Hatchell, the sport’s winningest active coach, is back to full coaching and recruiting duties for her 29th season here and 40th as a head coach. “I feel really good,” she said. “There’s nothing that I want to do that I can’t do.” The Hall of Famer comes back to a young squad that made a run to the NCAA regional finals in her absence although they are missing freshman of the year Diamond DeShields, who transfered to Tennessee in the summer.
TOUGH SEC: The Southeastern Conference hopes to reassert itself as the pre-eminent women’s basketball power. Second-ranked South Carolina is one of three teams in the top five of the poll. Dawn Staley’s team returns all five starters from last season’s squad that had one of the best in school history that ended in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Her team hopes to end a drought by the SEC that hasn’t had a team in the Final Four since Tennessee won it all in 2008 which gave Pat Summitt her eighth and final national title. Coincidently that’s the last time the Final Four was in Tampa, site of this year’s national semifinals which take place on April 5.
REACHING THE SUMMITT: While Pat Summitt is now a head coach emeritus for the Lady Vols, there will be a Summitt roaming the sidelines this season: Tyler Summitt has taken over as head coach of Louisiana Tech. He hopes to provide a rebirth to that former women’s basketball power. The Lady Techsters begin play on Nov. 15.
MOVING TRIBUTE: While most schools don’t begin play until that weekend, one Division III program got an early jump on the season. All of women’s basketball was watching as Mount St. Joseph played Hiram College on Nov. 2. The game was moved to the early start date for Lauren Hill, a Mount St. Joseph’s freshman who has an inoperable brain tumor. Scoring the first basket of the season on a layup, Hill has raised awareness for her disease. “I just can’t believe there is a story out there like that,” Auriemma said. “That is the kind of story they write TV miniseries leading up to this kid who loves something so much and it is television at its best and here it is living out in real life.”
___ AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina contributed to this report.
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