| 03.18.2018

Idaho sent east, will meet UConn Huskies


The crowd of players, coaches, and fans went crazy as soon as the word “Idaho” flashed on the projector screen of ESPN’s Women’s NCAA Tournament selection show. Fans discovered the selection committee will send Idaho to the east coast to play a team which has made the Final Four each of the last five years — the Vandals were in and that in itself is an accomplishment.
Idaho is a No. 16 seed and will play at No. 1 seeded Connecticut Saturday at 10:30 a.m. PST in Storrs, Conn.
“You know what we’ve been up for challenges all year long so we’ll go back and watch film on UConn … they won’t be a surprise for us, we might be a surprise to them from that standpoint,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “We knew we’d have to play a pretty high seed, didn’t know how high it was going to be, I’m sure our players are ready for the challenge.”
UConn was built into a college basketball dynasty by Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma. The Huskies have participated in the NCAA Tournament every season since 1988 and haven’t lost a first round game since 1993. Don’t forget the seven national championships since 1995.
“Everybody already penciled UConn in the second round I’m sure, our players have to go out and have fun, it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Newlee said. “(It) may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for them, so they just need to embrace that, embrace that role of going out there of having fun and playing basketball.”
A No. 16 seed hasn’t won a tournament game since 1998, when Harvard defeated Stanford. Most anticipated the Vandals would get sent to Palo Alto, Calif., to play the Cardinal, but oohs and ahs filled the room when Tulsa was the announced No. 16 seed in the Spokane region.
“We were expecting to play Stanford,” junior Alyssa Charlston said. “When we saw Tulsa playing Stanford that turned my stomach around, I was like ‘Oh my God,’ this just got that much more exciting.”
Idaho won’t have a shortage of incredible players to worry about.
It starts with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn’s roaming guard-forward who averages 17.4 points-per-game
on 52 percent shooting from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc. Next to Lewis is 6-foot-
4 freshman forward Breanna Stewart, who averages 14.4 points-per-game on 58 percent shooting.
“It’s going to be great to go to the east coast and play against a big name team, it was either Stanford or UConn and we get to go to UConn,” Stacey Barr, a sophomore guard and WAC Tournament MVP said. “This is a great opportunity for us to play a big school, we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Idaho’s played three NCAA Tournament teams this season, No. 5 seeded Colorado, No. 12 seeded Gonzaga and No. 13 seeded Montana twice. Idaho also played two teams that could make the WNIT, Wyoming and Washington.
“Those games help us, because at UW, we were ahead of them the entire first half … you have to respect your opponent but don’t be star struck by them. I have a ton of respect for every single one of these UConn players,” Charlston said. “Going in having those games against Gonzaga, UW, great teams, it gives us respect for them but it also gives us confidence that we can compete with these girls.”
Given the fact only one No. 16 seed has ever won a first round game, the pressure will be off for the team — a contrast of mentality from Las Vegas when Newlee said the pressure of being the No. 3 seed affected them early in the quarterfinal win over San Jose State.
“It’s all gravy now,” Newlee said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament, there’s only 64 teams left playing and we’re one of them, and that’s going to be the message to them.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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