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In Vermont, Geno expects a Big East-like challenge
With a defense-first, grind-it-out mentality, the Catamounts have the look of a Big East team, according to Auriemma.
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When UConn and Vermont face off in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, it’ll be the first meeting between the schools since 2009. Yet Geno Auriemma almost feels like they’ve already played the Catamounts this season.
“What I’ve seen so far, I really, really like,” he said. “They remind me of some of the teams in our league.”
Vermont went 25-6 overall with a 14-2 conference record en route to both the America East regular season and tournament championships. The Catamounts feature the seventh-best scoring defense in the nation, highlighted by the 36 points they allowed to Albany in the America East title game last weekend. Even if they don’t play in the Big East, they look like they do.
“In the Big East, you saw it’s not always easy to score points in our league because those teams are exceptionally well-coached defensively — because they have to be,” Auriemma said. “They’re not the kind of team that’s going to run out there and get 90 on most nights. So they’re built around their defense and they play really, really hard and they compete. When you have a team that plays defense like that, when you have a team that's committed like that, they don’t have to score a lot of points.”
For UConn, facing a team like that in the first round isn’t exactly comforting. Despite having a 18-2 conference record, the Huskies had eight conference games that were decided decided by single digits. After losing to St. John’s and Marquette, it wasn’t until UConn’s final game where it finally clinched the regular season title.
Just because the Huskies have seen that style before doesn’t make it any easier.
“If you look at them on film and take away the Vermont jersey, you would say ‘What team is that?’ They look as good as a lot of teams that we had on our schedule, so it’s not anything we haven’t seen,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think they do anything that is incredibly tricky or complicated. They just execute.”
Luckily, any concerns about UConn disappeared in the Big East Tournament. The Huskies won three games in three days — all of which came in an impressive fashion — and earned the Big East Tournament championship after a close contest with Villanova.
So while Vermont might be difficult to play against, the Huskies are the ultimate challenge.
“We’re going to have to stay true to who we are in this game because it’s going to be really tough,” UVM coach Alisa Kresge said.
Though the Catamounts may be well-versed on defense, the Huskies’ back-court is finally at full strength. Even though Auriemma has seen the way Vermont can execute, its style of play is nothing his team can’t handle.
Plus, UConn is coming off an 11-day “boot camp” and should be more than ready to go on Saturday — even if it feels like an extension of Big East play.