March 23, 2009
STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut's Maya Moore says watching Ball State beat Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament was a humbling experience.
"We realize what can happen," Moore said. "If we're playing our best, we shouldn't be able to be beaten. But we can lose games if we don't come and play."
Top-ranked Connecticut (34-0) faces eighth seeded Florida (24-7) Tuesday in the second round of the Trenton Regional. UConn will be seeking its 16th consecutive trip to the regional semifinals.
Florida has been there twice, the last time in 1998.
But the Gators are a confident bunch, having also beaten Tennessee this season, along with ranked teams Florida State, Arizona State and Pittsburgh. They beat Temple 70-57 in round one.
"When you think of Tennessee women's basketball, you think of one of the greatest women's programs ever," Florida coach Amanda Butler said. "So I do think there is a little bit of a mental advantage when you have conquered one of those giants."
Connecticut looms as a larger behemoth, having beaten all comers this season by double digits. The Huskies are prohibitive favorites to win the program's sixth national title.
Florida is 5-1 against teams that have lost to UConn this season. Those Gator wins came by an average of 12 points. The Huskies beat the same teams by an average of 29 points. UConn routed Vermont 104-65 in the first round Sunday. Florida beat the Catamounts 85-76 in December.
Gator forward Steffi Sorensen said none of that matters now.
"No one is flawless," she said. "People are beatable, and the pressure is on UConn because everyone's expecting them to win, and for us we really have nothing to lose."
The game will feature two of the nation's best guards. UConn senior Renee Montgomery will be making her 136th consecutive start, and is averaging just under 16 points and just over five assists per game.
Florida's Sha Brooks has started 122 consecutive games, is averaging just over 16 points and just under five assists.
"They are undoubtedly the floor leader for both of their teams, and both of their teams go as they go," Butler said. "They're the ones who have the first opportunity to defend the ball usually as well, and so they are responsible for setting the tones for their teams. I think when you look at what Connecticut has accomplished this year and what Florida has accomplished this year, you have to look at the tone setters."
UConn also has Moore, who is averaging 19 points and nine rebounds, and center Tina Charles, who averages 16 points and eight rebounds, and scored 32 against Vermont.
The Gators' Marshae Dotson averages just under 14 points and seven rebounds.
The programs have met just once, a 71-48 blowout in December 1991 when Butler was a sophomore guard, and UConn was coming off its first Final Four season.
Butler said it was clear then that UConn was an up-and-coming program. This time around, it's Florida that is viewed as the program on the rise. Their 24th win tied a school record for a season, and they hope to break that by beating another of the nation's elite.
Auriemma said while he hopes that doesn't happen, the Ball State win shows that UConn can't expect a 30-point victory.
"I think it's a reminder that we're not entitled to this, and our fans aren't either," he said. "No one is entitled to this."