March 28, 2009
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Connecticut has been just about perfect this season, running through everyone in its path.
The unbeaten Huskies haven't made many mistakes in getting to the regional semifinals for the 16th straight season. Still, California coach Joanne Boyle and her players aren't daunted by the task of trying to derail the UConn express.
"I don't think you can prepare them any differently. They know UConn and their history and their level of basketball," Boyle said. "It's a big stage for them and not to be fearful of it. We don't have to play a perfect game, just a really smart game. We try to minimize the bigger picture."
Her players agree.
"This isn't the first team at UConn that has done that," Cal forward Ashley Walker said. "Other teams have done the same thing. You go out and play your game and the outcome is the outcome."
The winner will play Arizona State or Texas A&M on Tuesday night with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
UConn (35-0) has dismantled opponents this season, including beating seven ranked teams by an average of 31 points. But the Huskies aren't taking anything for granted.
"When it gets down to the Sweet 16 and further along it gets down to execution and who will impose their will on the other team," said UConn senior Renee Montgomery.
This is the fourth time that UConn has been undefeated while playing in the NCAA tournament. Connecticut went on to win the national championship in 1995 and 2002. In 1996-97, the Huskies lost to Tennessee in the regional final.
The Bears (27-6) are making their first trip to the regionals after blowing out Fresno State and Virginia in the first two rounds.
The whole year has been a journey for the Bears, who started out with an incredible visit to Africa in the summer.
"The trip was amazing," Cal's Ashley Walker said. "You learn a lot about yourself and what you take for granted here every day. Seeing how they lived fuels us to be better people."
With a veteran team, the lack of postseason experience doesn't worry Boyle.
The Bears are led by their trio of veterans - Alexis Gray-Lawson, Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton. The three have combined for 67 percent of Cal's points.
"The fact they've been together so long is a huge plus for them," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "It's different in our circumstance, we have a senior, junior and sophomore. You know our three players are pretty good and their three players are pretty good, but it's not a 3-on-3 tournament.
The Huskies have been led by their Big Three all season - Montgomery, Tina Charles and Maya Moore. The three have combined for 62 percent of the points.
Charles has been a dominant force in the first two rounds averaging 27 points while shooting 82 percent (23-for-28) from the field.