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Countdown to Women’s March Madness: What’s next for UConn?

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament is a little over a month away, and you know what they say: the separation is in the preparation.

It’s a little unfair that even when UConn aren’t the best, they’re still the story. But, fair or not, the Huskies are definitely the story this week in the world of women’s college ball, as they dropped to No. 5 in the AP poll — their lowest ranking since 2007. The longtime Goliaths are in a lull following a 696-day stretch at No. 1 that ended last October — a stretch that, it’s worth noting, produced no championships for the team.

Their (relative, let’s be honest) struggles continued last week when they lost to Louisville for the first time in 17 meetings, 69-78. UConn had already broken their four-year-long regular-season winning streak against Baylor in January.

Carly Regehr broke down the highs and lows of the game for the Huskies over at Swish Appeal, and also looked at how the team might move back up in the rankings before the end of the regular season. It won’t be easy — UConn plays just one more ranked opponent, South Carolina, and most of the top four teams (besides Oregon, who have to contend with a couple more tough conference opponents) have relatively easy schedules remaining.

Right now, the team is in line to be a No. 2 seed at the Albany regional. Translation: if there are no major shifts in the rankings, Louisville will have to beat them again to make it to the Final Four. There’s also some promising precedent for UConn fans; as Mechelle Voepel notes in her recap of the Louisville-UConn game, the last time the Huskies had two regular season losses (2012-2013) they won the NCAA tournament.

But let’s talk about Louisville for a second. The No. 2-ranked team isn’t topping out any stat categories — Her Hoop Stats currently has them at No . 7 in their overall rating — but since they lost to Notre Dame a month ago, they’ve been beating opponents by an average margin of 25 points. You have Asia Durr, presumed top-five pick in this year’s WNBA draft, alongside two other players — Jazmine Jones and Dana Evans — averaging double digits.

Plus, it just looks good. Check out this play from the UConn game: Jazmine Jones outlet pass to Asia Durr, who swings a no-look pass to Arica Carter, who feeds it to Sam Fuehring for a swirling lay-up. You couldn’t draw it up any better.

Games to keep an eye on this week:

No. 5 UConn versus No. 12 South Carolina (Monday, February 11, 7 p.m. — this one’s on ESPN2, so you have no excuse)

UConn will — likely successfully — stop the bleeding with their last ranked match-up of the season, but Dawn Staley isn’t going to want to come all the way to Connecticut without at least giving Geno a hard time.

No. 9 NC State versus No. 24 Florida State (Thursday, February 7, 7 p.m.)

The Wolfpack are trying to bounce back after their very first loss of the season Sunday to UNC — at 21-0, they had been the sole remaining undefeated team in men’s or women’s DI basketball. Numbers-wise, NC State has the clear advantage; they’ve only played one ranked team this season, though, and they’ll be going to Tallahassee where FSU is on a three-game win streak.

No. 3 Oregon v. No. 11 Stanford (Sunday, February 10, 4 p.m.)

It’s hard not to want to watch Oregon, period — after all, they are the top offense in the country, according to Her Hoop Stats and also according to anyone who’s seen approximately three seconds of their highlights.

They’re easily one of the most hyped teams going into the tournament, thanks in no small part to the otherworldly ability of Sabrina Ionescu, presumed No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft and current NCAA triple-double record-holder for men and women. This season alone she has six, inspiring profiles by both the Washington Post and Bleacher Report.

Stanford, in contrast, is looking to halt a mini-skid after handing recent upsets to both Cal and Utah. It’ll be a clash of the offensive titans, and hopefully proof that the Pac-12 is just as competitive as it’s looked so far.