Breaking down the 2017-18 UConn women's basketball schedule
The season begins on a Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio. If all goes as expected, it will end five months later in the same building.
The 2018 NCAA women's basketball Final Four is at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, the site of UConn's regular season opener Nov. 12 against Stanford. The Huskies will enter the season with a deep and talented roster, a team that fell short of a national title in April, a group of players that will carry the disappointment of an overtime loss in the 2017 national semifinals into this season.
With four starters returning, two talented transfers gaining eligibility, and four freshmen arriving to supplement the bench, the Huskies will be the team to beat this season. So there's a sense of symmetry as they open with Stanford in the venue where they are expected to return March 30 as the team chases a 12th NCAA title.
In between the visits to Columbus, there's a stout nonconference schedule that will challenge UConn before New Years and will bleed into the American Athletic Conference portion of the season with games against Texas, South Carolina and Louisville after the calendar turns. UConn will play 13 nonconference games and 16 games in the AAC, where Geno Auriemma's team is 82-0 since the old Big East was rebranded in 2013.
The speed bumps during the 29-game sprint to the NCAA tournament? There are many, from Game 1 against Stanford to a meeting with rival Notre Dame in December through a visit to the national champions in South Carolina in February.
We're about seven weeks from the start of the season, a good time to run through the schedule and examine what lies ahead of the 2017-18 Huskies.
But the iconic programs haven't met over the past two season, even though they each shared a spot in the Samuelson family — Katie Lou came to UConn in 2015, Bonnie graduated from Stanford in 2016 and Karlie was a senior at Stanford last season. Stanford and UConn were in the 2016 Final Four, but both lost in the semifinal game and there was no Katie Lou-Karlie duel for the title.
Instead, Katie Lou and UConn will meet the Samuelson-less Stanford in the season opener in Columbus. The Huskies were originally slated to face Ohio State in the Countdown to Columbus game, but scheduling and TV issues necessitated a change and the Buckeyes will face Louisville while UConn renews its rivalry with Stanford.
Think of the history between Hall of Fame coaches Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer. Stanford ended UConn's 90-game winning streak in 2010 and handed the Huskies its loss in 2014. Stanford also beat UConn in the 2008 Final Four, accounting for three of UConn's 15 losses over a 10-year stretch.
If UConn loses the opener to Stanford? It will mark the first time since 1993 that the Huskies have lost consecutive games. They dropped two in a row to end the 1992-93 season.
The Huskies have seen a lot of Maryland and Notre Dame the past few years. UConn has played the Terps in each of the past three season, including a meeting in the 2015 Final Four. Maryland was a tough opponent last season and in the 2015-16 season, but it will be a different team visiting the XL Center Nov. 16.
The Terps lost six players, including starters Brionna Jones, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Destiny Slocum, who transferred to Oregon State after her freshman season. Capital Prep graduate Kiah Gillespie transferred to Florida State.
Notre Dame, one of UConn's fiercest rivals, has lost six in a row to the Huskies after winning seven of eight. UConn beat Notre Dame in the 2015 national title game, won at Gampel Pavilion the next season and won by 11 in South Bend last season.
On Feb. 12, the Huskies renew acquaintances with another old Big East rival. Louisville, now a member of the ACC, visits Gampel Pavilion for the second nonconference game in February. UConn is 16-1 vs. Jeff Walz' team, including a win in the 2013 NCAA title game.
Giving thanks on the West Coast
The Huskies will head west during Thanksgiving week, playing at UCLA (Nov. 21), Eugene, Oregon (vs. Michigan State on Nov. 25) and Nevada (Nov. 28).
Start with the game at Pauley Pavilion, where Auriemma will coach in John Wooden's old barn. And this promises to be a good matchup — UCLA, whose season ended with a loss to UConn in the NCAA tournament, was ranked 13th in the final USA Today coaches' poll. The Bruins return two of the country's top players: senior guard Jordin Canada (17.8 points) and 6-foot-4 senior forward Monique Billings (16.7, 10.5 rebounds).
The game in Oregon is part of the PK80 event, which honors Nike honcho Phil Knight. Auriemma has a long and deep history with Nike, so this will be a meaningful stop for UConn.
The Spartans were 21-12 last season and have been in the NCAA tournament 13 of the past 15 years. The last time Michigan State played UConn was Dec. 29, 2004, a 67-51 win for the Spartans in Hartford.
The final leg of the west coast trip is a homecoming game for Gabby Williams, as the Huskies visit Reno. Williams grew up in nearby Sparks, Nevada, and this will be an opportunity for family and friends to see her close to home.
Nevada, 11-19 last season and 25-65 the past three seasons, has a new coach. Former Arizona State associate head coach Amanda Levens was hired by AD Doug Knuth — a Fairfield native and UConn graduate — in March.
UConn's other senior gets her homecoming game three days before Christmas, when the Huskies travel to Toronto to face Duquesne at Mattamy Athletic Center (the former Maple Leaf Gardens, for you hockey fans). Kia Nurse grew up in Hamilton, Ont., about 40 miles from Toronto.
She was also a member of Canada's Olympic team and is a from a prominent Canadian sports family (brother plays in the NHL, father played in the CFL), so her appearance in Toronto will be significant.
The other homecoming: Samuelson in Los Angeles to face UCLA. Samuelson is from Orange Country, about an hour from the UCLA campus. This is as close to a homecoming game as she may get.
Home away from home
The Huskies have four neutral site games -- at Columbus , at Oregon, in Toronto, and at Mohegan Sun Arena for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase.
But the Dec. 19 game against Oklahoma in Uncasville is, well, a home game. UConn is 15-0 all-time at Mohegan Sun Arena, site of the AAC tournament and 30 miles from the Storrs campus.
And if the Huskies are unbeaten heading into this game, Geno Auriemma will be bidding for his 1,000th career win. The Sooners, coached by Sherri Coale, were 23-10 last season.
The reigning champs
South Carolina, fresh off an NCAA title, will host UConn Feb. 1. The Gamecocks, led by 2020 U.S. Olympic coach Dawn Staley, lost to UConn at Gampel Pavilion last season, as the Huskies posted their 100th consecutive victory.
South Carolina returns 6-5 All-American forward A'ja Wilson, but Staley lost her backcourt (Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray) to the WNBA and 6-5 center Alaina Coates graduated.
The Conference Slate
The Huskies first conference game is Dec. 31, when Memphis plays at the XL Center (1:30 p.m. ET) in what could be part of Hartford's First Night festivities. UConn has two games against the program that's been second-best in the conference, USF: Jan. 6 in Tampa and Feb. 26 at Gampel Pavilion.
On Jan. 9, UCF is at Gampel Pavilion as Nykesha Sales returns to her alma mater. Sales, the Bloomfield native, completed her first season as an assistant at UCF.
Another UConn alum, Jamelle Elliott, brings her team to Connecticut Feb. 4. Cincinnati is at the XL Center Super Bowl Sunday at 1 p.m.
Tulane gave UConn a scare last season in New Orleans, as the Huskies escaped with a 63-60 win. This season, Tulane is at Gampel Jan. 27 and the Huskies return to Devlin Fieldhouse Feb. 21.