UConn adds transfer Lou Lopez Sénéchal from Fairfield

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 12 MAAC Tournament - Manhattan v Fairfield
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STORRS, Conn. – Lou Lopez Senechal , the player of the year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference , is transferring from Fairfield to UConn, the Huskies announced Saturday.

The 6-foot-1 forward, who is scheduled to graduate this spring from Fairfield with a degree in marketing, will have one year of eligibility left.

Lopez Senechal, a native of Mexico who grew up in Grenoble, France, averaged 16.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in four seasons at Fairfield, finishing with 1,598 career points and 470 boards. As a senior this past season, Lopez Senechal averaged 19.6 points and 4.6 rebounds, leading the Stags to the MAAC title and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001.

“We’re excited to have Lou join our program,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. “She comes to us with a lot of experience and she’s a smart, tough, hard-working player. Lou is a great scorer and we’re looking forward to her getting to work in June.”

UConn will return eight players from a team that finished 30-6 this past season and made it to a record 14th straight Final Four before losing in the national championship game to South Carolina.

The Huskies also are adding another top recruiting class with McDonald’s All-Americans Isuneh Brady and Ayanna Patterson set to join the program. Brady is a 6-3 post player from San Diego and Patterson is a 6-2 wing from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

UConn men rebuilding team after transfer-portal losses

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 20 UConn at Butler
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STORRS, Conn. – The UConn men’s program, which has lost six players with remaining eligibility this offseason, has added guard Tristen Newton, a transfer from East Carolina.

The 6-foot-5 rising senior averaged 17.7 points, five assists, and 4.8 rebounds for the Pirates last season. He will have two remaining years of eligibility thanks to the extra year granted to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

His arrival comes the same week guard Corey Floyd Jr., who sat out last season as a redshirt freshman after arriving early to UConn, announced he would be entering the transfer portal.

Floyd joins freshman guard Rahsool Diggins, junior guard Jalen Gaffney, and junior forward Akok Akok as former Huskies in the portal.

Guards R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin, who could have returned for another season under the COVID-19 rules, decided to pursue professional careers. Their departures were expected.

UConn coach Dan Hurley said Thursday he’s still looking to add a few more players from the portal for next season’s team.

“It’s almost like a different type of sport in terms of your program and how you’ve got to adapt and be agile,” Hurley said. “It’s something, obviously, that we’ve got to adjust to.”

Hurley said he’s happy with the core he brings back from a team that went 23-10, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to New Mexico State.

That will include junior center Adama Sanogo, sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins and junior guard Andre Jackson as well as Newton.

Jackson said he’s not angry about the departure of his former teammates because they did what they thought was best for their futures. But he said the idea of leaving a program because you face some adversity is not how he is built.

“For me, I would have stayed in the fight and tried to take my minutes,” he said. “It definitely hurts seeing some guys go, but I know that at the end of the day we’re going to bring in some really good guys.”

Fudd helps UConn advance 52-47 over UCF in defensive battle

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STORRS, Conn. — Freshman Azzi Fudd scored 16 points and hit two key free throws late as No. 2 seed UConn outfought No. 7 seed UCF 52-47 in a defensive slugfest Monday night to advance to an NCAA record 28th straight Sweet 16.

Christyn Williams added 12 points and Paige Bueckers had nine for the Huskies (27-5), who have not allowed an opponent to score more than 51 points in their last 10 games.

“It was a battle the whole game,” Williams said. “We just tried to throw the first punch and keep punching them.”

Diamond Battles scored 12 points, Brittney Smith added 11 and Tay Sanders had 10 for UCF (26-4), which saw its season end along with a 14-game winning streak.

These two former American Athletic Conference foes knew each other well and the Knights weren’t intimidated playing in front of a loud sold-out Connecticut crowd where the students were cheering baskets made in pregame warmups.

The Huskies led by just three points at halftime, but extended that to 12 points midway through the fourth quarter.

They led by 10 before Sanders 3-pointer from the left corner with 3 1/2 minutes remaining made it 48-41 and started the Knight’s final push.

UCF closed the gap to three points twice, the last time when Williams fouled Smith with 15.1 seconds left and the 6-foot-3 post hit her foul shots to cut the deficit to 50-47.

But Sanders fouled Fudd on the other end and the freshman calmly made her free throws to seal the win.

The game was extremely physical, with both teams pressing and playing lock-down defense. There were 45 fouls called, 24 on UCF.

The Knights held UConn to just 14 baskets on 48 shots (29.2%), but hit just 16 of their 46 (34.8%) UCF also struggled from the foul line, going just 10 of 20.

“This was a rather new experience for me, coach Geno Auriemma said. “It was what we thought it would be it was going to be really difficult and it was going to be ugly looking and it was.

“We could have easily let that game get away from us and we didn’t,” he said.

BIG PICTURE

UCF: The Knights have had the most successful season in school history, winning the AAC regular season and tournament titles, earning their first Top 25 ranking, notching their first NCAA Tournament win and beating in-state rival Florida for the first time ever after 26 straight losses. Monday’s loss was the Knights first in 15 games.

UConn: UConn, which beat mercer 83-38 in the first round, improves to 18-3 as a No. 2 seed and 29-2 all-time in the second round, where they last lost in 1992. They fell in the first round a year later. The Huskies move on the Sweet 16, where they have not lost since falling to Stanford in 2005.

UP NEXT

UConn will face Indiana in Bridgeport on Saturday.

New Mexico State upsets UConn 70-63 in NCAA Tournament

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Teddy Allen scored 37 points and New Mexico State won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time almost three decades, upsetting fifth-seeded Connecticut 70-63 Thursday night to become the second No. 12 seed to advance out of the first round.

The Aggies (27-6) will face the winner of the Arkansas-Vermont game on Saturday in the West Region. In its 23rd NCAA appearance, the Aggies won for the first time since beating Syracuse in the first round in 1993.

New Mexico State had not been back to Upstate New York since beating Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. In Buffalo, Allen and the Aggies made another memory.

Allen made a rainbow 3 off the dribble with 1:40 to put New Mexico State up 61-58.

He wasn’t done. After R.J. Cole (20 points) cut the lead to one for UConn (23-10), Allen went back to work.

The 6-foot-6 junior drove hard to the basket and scooped it home while drawing a foul. He popped off the floor and ran over to the sideline to flex for the Aggies’ fans before completing the three-point play for a 66-60 lead with 27 seconds left.

The Western Athletic Conference champions followed the tournament’s first 5-12 upset onto the floor at KeyBank Center. After Richmond eliminated Big Ten champion Iowa, New Mexico State asserted itself in the first half against UConn from the Big East.

Huskies coach Dan Hurley called Allen “a bucket” the day before his team faced the well-traveled scorer.

The West Virginia (and Wichita State, Nebraska and junior college) transfer made a bunch of them against UConn after starting the game 0 for 6.

Allen made his next five to lead a closing 12-2 run that put the Aggies up 32-22 at halftime.

The Aggies upped the lead to as many as 14 early in the second half, but UConn slowly clawed back and tied it 52 with 5:08 remaining.

But the Huskies never led in the second half.

Allen finished 4 for 7 from 3 and 13 for 13 on free throws.

BIG PICTURE

New Mexico State: This is the sixth time in the in the last 12 NCAA Tournaments more than one No. 12 seed advanced out of the first round.

UConn: Adama Sanogo, the Huskies’ second-leading scorer, never did get going inside. He finished with 10 points and eight rebounds on 4-of-9 shooting.

UP NEXT

New Mexico State will try to win two games in an NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1970.

UConn women’s team has deep rotation for NCAA Tournament

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STORRS, Conn. — The low point for UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma this season didn’t come when star Paige Bueckers went down with a knee injury in early December.

He said it came in January, when the team, already missing Bueckers, junior forward Aubrey Griffin (season-ending back injury) and top freshman Azzi Fudd (right foot injury) found out it would have to visit Oregon without senior guard Christyn Williams, who tested positive for COVID-19.

With just six players in the rotation, UConn was dominated by the unranked Ducks 72-59.

The Huskies (25-5) have had eight players miss at least two games this season with illness or injury, resulting in 10 different starting lineups.

Connecticut lost to unranked teams for the first time since 2012 and saw Villanova snap the program’s winning streak against conference opponents at 169 games on Feb. 9. That was another game where just six Huskies, albeit a different six than against Oregon, saw action.

But everyone except Griffin is now back. The team is on a 10-game winning streak and in the five games since Bueckers’ return on Feb. 25, UConn has been outscoring opponents by 35.8 points per game. A now-healthy Connecticut dominated Villanova by 30 points in the Big East title game and nine Huskies are now playing at least 15 minutes per game.

“Most people’s benches tend to shorten as the NCAA Tournament comes along and ours has gotten bigger,” Auriemma said. “So, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but I would rather have this situation than the one I’ve dealt with for the last three months.”

The injuries have allowed players who otherwise would have had minor roles on the team to gain significant experience, allowing Auriemma to substitute liberally. That means foul trouble is less of an issue; there are options if one of his younger players struggles with the spotlight of the NCAA Tournament and fatigue should not be a factor, allowing more pressure on defense and transition on offense, he said.

“I think also just looking at it from the bench a little bit, just kind of, you can get a little feel of the game how it goes, just how we can impact the game, whoever is coming off the bench,” forward Dorka Juhasz said.

“So I think that’s really helpful for us, just to get a few people in and just kind of pressure the ball on defense and everything like that. But definitely you can feel sometimes that (the opponent is) getting tired. So if I can run the floor a little bit more, a little harder, I think that shows on our offense and defense, too.”

Evina Westbrook, who starred at Tennessee before transferring to UConn in the spring of 2019, has transitioned this season from a starter to playing the Huskies sixth woman role, providing instant offense off the bench. She and her teammates have learned to check their egos for the good of the team, she said.

“It’s kind of fun to play like that,” Westbrook said. “For the other team, they can’t relax on who we’ve got coming in, because everyone is really dangerous. “So it feels good and it’s different. But I think it just really prepares you for the next level as well, having to adjust. You’re you’re not going to be the star player on every team you play on. You’re not going to have the same role.”

Bueckers, last year’s national player of the year, continues to work her way back from the tibial plateau fracture and torn meniscus in her left knee. She has seen her playing time increase since her return from just under 13 minutes per game to just under 20 minutes.

Auriemma said she will have no minutes restriction during the NCAA Tournament and he has not ruled out returning her to the starting lineup.

But Bueckers said she’s ready for whatever role the coach gives her.

“We have a really deep roster and everybody that comes off the bench and plays is just as good as the starters,” she said. “Everybody is just confident enough to know that we have each other’s backs and whatever we need. If somebody’s having a bad game, somebody else will step up and we just all have each other’s backs.”

Bueckers, Clark among returning stars in women’s NCAA field

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark are back, this time as talented sophomores in the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament.

The duo commanded center stage and the nation’s attention last year in one of the most anticipated women’s Sweet 16 showdowns between top freshmen Bueckers and her UConn squad and Clark with Iowa.

This time, Bueckers has played modest minutes in her four games since returning from knee surgery for an injury she suffered in early December.

Clark has picked up where she left off last year, winning the Big Ten Conference player of year award and leading the country in scoring at 27.1 points a game. Clark has have five triple-doubles this season and a career-high 46 points against Michigan.

Bueckers said her challenge is “accepting what I’m going to be and what I am for the rest of the season and just trying to be the best version of myself that I can be.”

It was Bueckers and UConn outplaying Iowa last March in San Antonio, with the Huskies winning 92-72. Bueckers had 18 points, Clark had 21.

But they’re just two of several players to watch in this year’s tournament.

NaLyssa Smith led Baylor to the Big 12 Conference regular-season title in the first year after national championship coach Kim Mulkey left for LSU. Smith, who averaged 23.1 points, was the first to win back-to-back Big 12 player of the year honors since former Bear Brittney Griner did it three straight years from 2011-13.

Haley Jones of Stanford was the Final Four’s most outstanding player last year as the Cardinal beat Arizona for the championship in a Pac-12 showdown. She averaged 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds this year – second in the Pac 12 – and was named the conference player of the year. Stanford is trying to become the first women’s team with consecutive titles since UConn’s run of four straight ended in 2016.

South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, enters the NCAA Tournament with 24 straight games with double-figure points and rebounds.

Louisville’s Emily Engstler, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Syracuse, led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 2.5 steals a game, along with 11.5 points and a team-leading 9.1 boards per game.

Some other things to know about this year’s women’s tournament:

LEVELING THE FIELD

The NCAA took several steps to make the men’s and women’s tournaments more equal this year.

Oregon’s Sedona Prince posted a video last year about the lack of amenities – training equipment, food, tournament gifts – that the women had in San Antonio compared to the men in Indianapolis.

The NCAA commissioned a study, released last summer, that found gross inequalities between the tournaments. This year, the women’s field will have 68 teams, just like the men, and the term “March Madness” will branded on the court instead of just “Women’s Basketball” as in the past.

The NCAA has said men’s and women’s teams also will have equitable hotel rooms and food.

INAUGURAL FIRST FOUR

Howard, Incarnate Word, Missouri State, Florida State, Longwood, Mount St. Mary’s, Dayton and DePaul will enter the record books as the teams in the inaugural women’s First Four games.

Howard and Incarnate Word – making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearances – will play, with the winner facing No. 1 overall seed South Carolina in Columbia. Also in the Greensboro Region, Dayton and DePaul will play for the chance to take on sixth-seeded Georgia.

In the Spokane Region, Missouri State and Florida State will meet to see who takes on sixth-seeded Ohio State. And in the Bridgeport Region, Longwood faces Mount St. Mary’s with the advancing to take on top-seeded North Carolina State.

DOUBLE DIP

There are 24 schools that have teams in both the men’s and women’s tournaments, including all four top seeds on the men’s side in Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas and Baylor.

Perhaps the most intriguing school with teams in both events is Longwood. Both the Lancers men’s and women’s teams won Big South Conference Tournament crowns to earn NCAA berths for the first time in school history.

Other schools with teams in the men’s and women’s tournaments: UConn, Arkansas, Norte Dame, Montana State, North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, Virginia Tech, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State, Villanova, Delaware, Creighton, Iowa, LSU, Iowa State and Miami.

HOME, SWEET HOME

Don’t look for many surprises in opening games as the NCAA Tournament returns to campus sites.

However, there could be a few upsets in the second round.

No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds are 324-1 in opening round games since the field was set at 64. The lone upset was No. 16 Harvard defeating top-seeded Stanford on its home court in 1998.

No. 4 seeds have gone 108-10 against 13th-seeded opponents.

The second is a different story: In each of the past three NCAA Tournaments that started on home courts in 2017, 2018 and 2019, only 12 of 16 homes teams advanced from the second round to the Sweet 16.

BACK HOME

The tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, South Carolina, will host its first home NCAA game since 2018. The Gamecocks played in Charlotte in 2019 because a men’s NCAA regional was held at their home building. The 2020 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 while last year’s event was played entirely in San Antonio.