Tulane freshman forward Krystal Freeman said she hasn't asked any of the Green Wave upperclassmen what it's like to play against No. 1-ranked Connecticut.
She'll know herself soon enough. Tulane will play at UConn on Saturday morning at Storrs, Conn.
“I haven't sat really sat down and talked to them about it,” said Freeman, a 6-footer from Pineville who's playing in her first game against the Huskies. “I've heard them say things about playing against them like how well they play and how they are so long, they don't even foul (on defense), things like that.
“I'm excited and nervous.”
Noting that Tulane (11-10, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) only lost to UConn by three points at Devlin Fieldhouse, Freeman said she's of the mindset that anything can really happen.
The Huskies (19-0, 8-0) have been ranked at their customary No. 1 in the nation since the preseason even though they did not win last year's NCAA championship for the first time in five years. They return a roster nearly intact and have added 6-foot-6 Duke transfer Azura Stevens.
They gave coach Geno Auriemma his 1,000th career victory on Dec. 19 against Oklahoma. However, he said his team's performance on Jan. 18 in a 78-60 win against Tulsa was “the most disgraceful I've seen in 32 years of coaching Connecticut.” So infuriated was Auriemma that he instituted 6 a.m. practices.
Connecticut is coming off a 93-36 win at Memphis on Wednesday.
Tulane sophomore forward Maddison Wells said playing against the Huskies anywhere is an extremely difficult task. However, going against them in Storrs is like nothing else she's experienced.
“I remember my first trip up there last year,” said Wells, a 6-1 forward. “I was excited and nervous but OK when we arrived on the plane. But when we got to the arena, there were (15,000) of their fans, and they were very loud. It was very overwhelming, and there was a lot of energy in the air. It was very intense.”
After three consecutive conference losses, Green Wave coach Lisa Stockton tinkered with the team's lineup rotation. Junior guard Tatyana Lofton has been getting more playing time, and senior guard Cayla Cruickshank has played a bigger role off the bench. The Wave has won its past two games, against Tulsa and East Carolina, both at home.
However, Wells and Freeman also have been in the mix. Stockton lauded Wells for her play against East Carolina, mostly on defense. She had seven points and three steals. When Wells and Freeman, both of whom Stockton considers very athletic, can play very hard and well in five-minute spurts, it helps the Wave tremendously, she said. Another freshman, Sierra Cheatham, has started the past seven games.
That will be needed from a host of Green Wave players Saturday just to be up to the task against UConn like Tulsa, which Tulane whipped 70-39 on Jan. 21 to end the three-game slide.
Atmosphere notwithstanding, the Huskies have six players with double-figure scoring averages — 6-3 forward Katie Lou Samuelson (16.9), 6-foot guard Kia Nurse (15.2 points, 49.5 percent 3-point shooting), Stevens (14.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg), 6-1 forward Napheesa Collier (14.9, 7.9), 5-5 point guard Crystal Dangerfield (11.4, 4.4 assists) and 5-11 forward Gabby Williams (10.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg).
All six are on the Naismith Watch List for national player of the year, and Collier was selected the AAC's preseason player of the year.
Although Connecticut lost in the semifinals of last year's Final Four, Stockton stated the obvious when she said “they are on a different level.” In four years in the AAC, the Huskies have never lost a conference game and have won 78 in a row, including four conference tournaments.
“I don't know that there's anything on the (practice) court to really prepare for (UConn),” she said. “It's definitely as much mental as it is physical with them.
“It's a tremendous experience if you take it the right way in that you love the challenge and you want to be in that atmosphere and be a part of that and play against some of the best (players) in the country. I hope this is one that we can get the benefit of just having the experience.”