SEATTLE (AP) — Reaching the Sweet 16 is old hat for Geno Auriemma and UConn. They’ve done it in a record 29 consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Because of all the Huskies have gone through this season with injuries and illnesses to both players and coaches, this one was more special for the Hall of Fame coach.
“Everything was a struggle. Everything was hard,” Auriemma said. “And for us to be in the position that we’re in — to go to the same place where so many other UConn teams have gone, yet having gone through so much more than I think any other UConn team has had to go through — I was really proud of them. Because I’ve been through a lot of these, but they haven’t.”
The Huskies will play Ohio State in the first semifinal Saturday. Tennessee will face Virginia Tech, which is making its first appearance in the second weekend of the tournament since 1999, in the second game.
The two winners will play Monday night with a trip to the Final Four in Dallas on the line. UConn is trying to extend its record streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances.
Unlike the other Seattle Regional where only one of the top teams made it this far, all four of the higher seeds advanced in Seattle 3.
While the Huskies have the longest active streak of Sweet 16 appearances, no team has reached this stage of March Madness more than Tennessee. This is the Lady Vols’ 36th appearance in the regional semifinals — most for any men’s or women’s program.
No team has played better than the Lady Vols in the opening two rounds as they won each of their first two games by 45 points. The only other school to do that is UConn, which did it three times. The Huskies went on to win the national championship twice in those years.
The Lady Vols were predicted to be good this season and after early season struggles they have played much better lately.
“The growth throughout the season has been positive, we learned how to play better together,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “Our defense has improved, our rebounding has improved throughout the season.”
FACING A FAMILIAR FOE
UConn senior Dorka Juhasz will be facing her old team in Ohio State, which she graduated from two years ago. Juhasz flourished in her time with the Buckeyes earning all conference honors twice, but wanted a new challenge and a team that could compete for national championships, so she joined the Huskies last year.
“I would say I’m excited. I think it’s just — you know, I remember just seeing, first of all, like, the bracket coming out and, like, Ohio State popped up and everybody was like, ooh, like, there’s a possibility playing Ohio State. There’s no negative feelings about that. I still have a lot of friends and I always have a lot of respect for my old coaching staff and everybody that helped me there because at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be here without them.”
The feeling is mutual with Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff.
“She went to a great program and we continued to get better and I think both people are in a better place,” he said. “I enjoyed coaching her she did a great job for us. This was good opportunity for her to get into one more program. This has been a really good two years for her. She’s strengthened her position on being a good pro.”
JOINING AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB
Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks is the lone Black male coach to reach the Sweet 16 this season, becoming the second ever to accomplish that since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994. Syracuse’s Quentin Hillsman was the other reaching the Final Four in 2016.
The significance isn’t lost on the Hokies’ leader.
“Everything I am doing, I’m doing for myself, my program, for our university,” Brooks said. “I do it for people who look like me. There are a lot of great male Black coaches who deserve an opportunity. If they can see what I’ve done and it inspires them to give another Black male an opportunity. then I’ve done my job.”
Two other Black male coaches did reach the regional semifinals when the field was smaller with Earnest Riggins doing it in 1985 at San Diego State and Winthrop McGriff accomplishing the feat at Cheyney State after he took over for C. Vivian Stringer. McGriff led that team to the Final Four.
Brooks is one of four Black coaches overall to reach the regional semifinals, the most in over a decade.
It has been a record-setting year for the Hokies. They won the ACC championship and reached the Sweet 16, two goals the team had at the start of the season. They’ve won 29 games to break the school record for most in a season that was set by the 1998-99 squad that was the last to go this far.
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