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women’s basketball Breaking down the Albany Regional

March 21, 2019

STORRS — Geno Auriemma was in the middle of fielding questions about the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket when he casually decided to deliver one of his own.

Naturally, it came with a hint of sarcasm.

“Did they already say which is the hardest bracket? Does that come out yet? You know, like in the World Cup — the Group of Death,” the UConn coach cracked to reporters. “Is there a Bracket of Death? Has anybody established themselves as being in the Bracket of Death?”

UConn (31-2) isn’t a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006. Perhaps, time will only tell if it matters.

The Huskies, seeded second behind Louisville in the Albany (N.Y.) Regional, tip off first-round play Friday (6:30 p.m.) against No. 15 Towson at Gampel Pavilion.

Let’s take a closer look at what the 11-time national champions will be up against as they embark on the road to the Final Four in Tampa, Fla.

No. 1 Louisville (29-3): With two-time ACC Player of the Year Asia Durr (averaging 21.3 points) a surefire top-5 pick in April’s WNBA Draft, this may be Louisville’s best shot to win a national championship. The Cardinals beat UConn at home in January, 78-69.

No. 3 Maryland (28-4): The Terrapins dropped the Big 10 Tournament final to Iowa after racing to the regular-season crown. Fortunately, Hawkeyes forward Megan Gustafson, who torched the Terrapins for 45 points, is on the opposite side of the bracket.

No. 4 Oregon St (24-7): Coming off a stunning loss to Washington in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, the Beavers must have a short memory if they intend to make a deep run. Having a standout guard like Destiny Slocum (16.0 ppg) should help.

No. 5 Gonzaga (28-4): Point guard Laura Stockton — the daughter of NBA Hall-of-Fame point guard John Stockton — and Jill Townsend, the team’s best bench player, both missed the WCC final and are unexpected to return anytime soon.

No. 6 UCLA (20-12): The Bruins surprisingly pushed Oregon to the brink in the Pac-12 semifinals before falling in overtime, 88-83. At the very least, that should give them some confidence moving forward.

No. 7 Rutgers (22-9): Should they get past Buffalo, the Scarlet Knights will likely meet their former Big East rival in the second round. They’ll be without head coach Vivian Stringer, who is on a health-related leave of absence for the remainder of the season.

No. 8 Michigan (21-11): Winners of nine of their last 11 games, the Wolverines are led in scoring by freshman reserve Naz Hillmon (13.2 ppg).

No. 9 Kansas State (21-11): Like their first-round opponent, the Wildcats are heading into the tournament on a wave of momentum. They’re 8-3 in their last 11 contests. Something has to give.

No. 10 Buffalo (23-9): As goes Cierra Dillard, so go the Bulls. The senior guard is second in the nation in scoring (25.2 ppg).

No. 11 Tennessee (19-12): UConn’s ancient rival narrowly avoided missing the tournament for the first time since it began in 1982. Relief on Rocky Top.

No. 12 Little Rock (21-10): The Trojans won the Sun Belt Tournament to secure a bid for the sixth time since 2010.

No. 13 Boise State (28-4): Will the third time be the charm for the Broncos, who lost the previous two seasons in the first round?

No. 14: Radford (26-6): With four players scoring in double-figures, the Highlanders are in midst of their winningest season in program-history.

No. 15: Towson (20-12): The Tigers won the CAA title to secure their first NCAA bid. The reward? A trip to face the premier program in the sport.

No. 16: Robert Morris (22-10): The Colonials are in the tournament for the fourth time in six seasons.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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