Connecticut is accustomed to easing through the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, especially when games are in the Constitution State.
That is likely to continue on Sunday when the top-ranked Huskies begin their quest of a sixth national title against Cornell at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.The Huskies (32-1), whose lone loss this season came at No. 7 Rutgers on Feb. 5, are 33-4 all-time in NCAA tournament games held in Connecticut, winning 31 of the last 32 games by an average of 32.9 points. Their only defeat in that span came in the 2006 regional finals, a 63-61 overtime loss to Duke at Harbor Yard -- about 80 miles away from campus."I'm excited because we have great fans and anywhere we play they are there," Huskies senior guard Ketia Swanier said. "To actually play in Connecticut that makes it a big game, and for the seniors it is the last time we will get to play in Connecticut."UConn is looking to capitalize on the expected home-court advantage as it tries to make a run for its first national championship since 2004. The team fell short of that goal last season when it was eliminated in the regional finals with a 73-50 loss to third-seeded LSU."I think the mindset is can we win six in a row," Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said. "One comment that we talked about... was that I never had a team that won a championship without great guard play. So if you look back at all five of them and in all five championships we had the best guard play in the country."Renee Montgomery is providing just that, averaging 19.6 points over the last five games, including a 20-point performance in a 65-59 victory over then-No. 23 Louisville in the Big East title game on March 11.Connecticut is also getting some production from forward Charde Houston, who was named the conference tournament MVP after getting 13 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the final.That is a vast improvement for the senior, who averages 6.0 points and 3.9 boards. More was expected from Houston after she averaged career highs of 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds as a junior to gain notoriety as a potential candidate for national player of the year in 2007-08."Certainly, when you look at all the guys on our bench, Charde has the most experience, has the most ability," Auriemma said. "It's all contingent on her being able to keep it together for X number of games"The Big Red (20-8) are in the NCAAs for the first time after winning the Ivy League title with a 64-47 win over Dartmouth last Sunday."It was a dream come true," Cornell coach Dayna Smith said. "We're happy to represent the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament."Jeomi Maduka, the Ivy's player of the year, scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Big Green. The sophomore forward leads the team with 14.3 points and 7.6 boards per game. It is believed that on Sunday she will become the first woman to be an indoor All-American in track and field and play in the NCAA tournament in the same season.Cornell lost its only meeting with a ranked team, a 93-52 loss to then-No. 19 West Virginia on Nov. 18.The winner of this game will face eighth-seeded Texas or ninth-seeded Minnesota at Bridgeport on Tuesday.