UConn considered the 2008-09 front-runner
STORRS, Conn. -- Things seem to be setting up nicely for Connecticut to make a run at a sixth national championship.
The Huskies return four starters among seven players who saw significant playing time on a team that lost just two games while making it to the national semifinals last season.
With All-American sophomore Maya Moore and All-American candidates Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles leading the way, UConn is favored by many to cut down the nets in St. Louis next spring.
"This year, I think we have the potential to not lose a game," said Moore, who averaged almost 18 points as a freshman.
Coach Geno Auriemma won't go that far. His team was supposed to have more talent than anyone else a year ago, just before he lost starters Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas to season-ending knee injuries.
Expectations, he said, can be a funny thing.
"Sometimes the fates don't smile on you, so come next March, we'll look back and see how it went," Auriemma said. "I've been punished every year that I've thought too far ahead, and I'm not going to make that mistake."
Auriemma already has seen some expectations shattered this fall, when star recruit Elena Della Donne backed out of her commitment to play at UConn, choosing instead to play volleyball at Delaware.
The 6-foot-5 phenom with an outside jumper was supposed to be the final piece to the championship puzzle. Charles said the team hasn't missed her.
"She didn't come here and play, so we don't know what she would have brought to us," Charles said.
Instead, the team has focused on the players who did come.
Charles and junior forward Kaili McLaren will be backed up inside by 6-4 freshman Heather Buck, who averaged 26.4 points and 16.3 rebounds last season at Stonington H.S., about 50 miles from the Connecticut campus.
"Sometimes I feel a little bit of pressure," Buck said. "I've got just a couple weeks, and then I've got to be ready. But, it's here now, and I'm excited."
With the loss of Thomas, guard Ketia Swanier and post players Brittany Hunter and Charde Houston to graduation, Auriemma said he will need a "tremendous contribution" from Buck and freshmen guards Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty.
"If our three freshmen are not as good as I think they are, that means we better not foul anybody ever again," he said.
Auriemma said he is anxious to see how Greene plays following the reconstruction of her knee. The 5-10 wing said she still can't jump or slash like she did before last December's injury, and doesn't expect to be back at full strength for another couple of months. She hopes to make up for that in the early season by using what she learned while watching games from the bench.
"I think I'm a smarter player, I see the game differently," she said. "I have to find ways to score, rather than just jumping over people."
While depth might be an issue, Auriemma said toughness is not. He said the team has taken on the character of Montgomery, UConn's feisty point guard who averaged 14 points and put up double figures in 26 of her final 30 games last season.
"We're going to have that mind-set of nothing is too hard for us," Moore said. "We're going to do it together and everybody's going to hold their own, and when we all do that, I don't think we're going to lose."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press