Don't be fooled: Huskies still front-page news

NEW ORLEANS -- If there wasn't as much national buzz around Connecticut's Diana Taurasi on Saturday during Final Four media day, it wasn't because the overall opinion of Taurasi's ability has suddenly gone down.

To the contrary, it reflects that much of the media is expecting to see Taurasi again playing for the championship. Many are hedging their bets that there will be more Taurasi/UConn stories to produce for Tuesday night.

Minnesota will have plenty to say about that, of course. But it's hard to find people willing to pick now against both the talent and experience of UConn and Taurasi. Although the Huskies are pretty sure such folks exist by the billions.

"We hear it all the time," UConn's Ashley Battle said Saturday. "People in the media expected us to lose in the second round. Or to
lose to Penn State in the regional."

Um ... expected? Isn't it just possible that some media folks thought, "Well, maybe I'll do something different with my bracket. Go out on a limb. And, heck, Penn State is the No. 1 seed."

Why do the Huskies pay any attention to who picks whom anyway? They've won the last two national championships. Why does "picking" mean anything to them or anybody else?

"Oh, I don't care what people think of us," Battle said.

Except in the previous breath, she said that knowing people picked against the Huskies was just "fuel for the fire." UConn center Jessica Moore expressed the exact same contradictory sentiments minutes earlier.

Those are in fact, the twin rallying cries for the Huskies.

Nobody thinks we can win, so we're going to show them! ... But we don't care what anybody thinks!"

Welcome to a chief "motivating the excellent" technique. If you have a team this good, that has accomplished this much, that has this many talented players, you sometimes pull out old tricks to inspire it.

Convince them that they have to "prove" something. Which, of course, the Huskies don't. Or that everyone has looked past them. Which no one has.

When UConn lost to Duke in Hartford, Conn., in January, coach Geno Auriemma said he had suspected it was only a matter of time before the spinning plates that the Huskies had going finally crashed to the ground. So to speak.

Now did he really mean that? Or was it just another motivational statement?

He often says people expect way too much perfection out of his team ... yet if any media doofus "picks" someone other than UConn to win, it ticks off both him and the Huskies.

There's no doubt Auriemma has been a mastermind at motivation, tactics, strategy and adjustments over this incredible five-year span of consecutive Final Four appearances by UConn.

And you watch how well the Huskies play, especially in crunch time as the stakes get higher ... it has been such a consistent part of what makes this program good year after year.

Each season, the challenges are very real, very legitimate. It's not that no one else has jumped higher when UConn has raised the bar. It's that the Huskies keep on raising it.

So they were game-face ready on Saturday, a full day early. It was not by accident that UConn players kept referring to Janel McCarville and Lindsay Whalen as Minnesota's "two All-Americans."

And the Huskies got more fuel (not that they care about it) when Duke's Alana Beard picked up lots of individual hardware on Saturday. Beard did her best to looked pleased by it all. But she's still completely miserable after Duke's Elite Eight loss to Minnesota.

The national-championship trophy is the one thing that she most wanted. She can't get it, but Taurasi is still going for her third.

Yeah, Taurasi and the Huskies are still bold-type, front-page news.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.