First meeting between UConn and Mississippi State among highlights of Bridgeport Regional

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The pursuit of history resumes for the UConn women’s basketball program tomorrow morning in nearby Bridgeport, Connecticut. There the top-seeded Huskies play fifth-seeded Mississippi State, attempting to move closer to their goals of a fourth consecutive championship and eleventh overall for coach Geno Auriemma.

“We’re pretty excited that we’re playing a team that we haven’t seen,” Auriemma said of the first meeting between the two programs. “Not only haven’t seen this year, but haven’t seen ever. So I think that’s good.”

Both teams are known for their defense, and will try to disrupt the offense of their opponent.

“I’ve got great kids, and they’re really competitive,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. ”One of the things we do defensively is impose our will on people. The same thing can be said for Connecticut. They impose their will on you on both ends of the floor.”

As Auriemma said though, sometimes a great offensive player can handle the best of defenses.

“The best defender can’t [always] keep a great offensive player down,” Auriemma explained. “As I told you guys one hundred times, I’m a great fan of baseball. You throw the right pitch at the right time in the perfect spot and the guy hits a three-run homer. So what are you going to do?”

Each of these teams has their own home run hitter.

For UConn, it is Breanna Stewart, the favorite to win every Player of the Year award and be the first pick in the 2016 WNBA draft. Stewart is a complete player, who not only averages 19.2 points per game, but pulls down 8.4 rebounds per game, leads the team in blocks, and is second in assists. Her size and ability to play both inside and outside causes supreme problems for the UConn opponents.

Mississippi State counters with sophomore sensation Victoria Vivians. Vivians leads the Bulldogs with 17.4 points per game, and also has an inside-outside game that makes it difficult to defend. Two years younger than Stewart, her inexperience in situations such as a Sweet 16 game may make things more difficult for her.

Vivians feels her team is ready to defend the potent Huskies offense. “We’re a great defensive team, we practice defense all the time, we never go a practice without going over defense.”

To continue with Auriemma’s baseball analogy, each team also has a supreme base stealing threat. The game features two of the fastest guards in the country, UConn’s Moriah Jefferson and Mississippi State’s Morgan William.

The two point guards control their team’s tempo and both commented how important it is for both teams, who like to run, to stay under control and not turn the ball over.

Jefferson expresses that exact sentiment, saying, “I think the biggest thing is going to be controlling the tempo. They really like to run and get out and press a lot. So we have to be strong with the ball, making sure we’re not having any turnovers that we don’t need to have, and just really controlling our pace.”

Schaefer commented that looking at film of the SEC conference championship game his team lost to South Carolina, showed that turnovers and lost rebounds were the difference in the outcome.

William said, “Got to think fast. If they jump in the passing lane somebody else has to be open. So you have to stay on your feet, so you don’t travel or turn the ball over, but you have to be smart most importantly.”

Having beaten Tennessee for the first time in 37 meetings during the regular season, Mississippi State is not intimidated though, and that is a big part of the battle in playing UConn.

“Beating Tennessee, it got us over the hump,” junior guard Dominique Dillingham said. “We’ve always played tough against the upper teams in the SEC, but beating Tennessee [for the first time] was a great moment, it gave us confidence to play anyone. We have the confidence to play UConn.”

While the media and fans are discussing the chase of history, it seems the Huskies themselves are significantly less impressed, and focusing on one thing – this year’s championship.

“Right now we’re just chasing one,” Stewart says. “The other three we have, which is, I mean, we sound selfish every time we say it, but that’s the truth. Realizing that, yeah, this is our senior year. This is the biggest year of our career, and we want to make sure it is the best one.”

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