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UConn women: No. 2 for now, but that's not bad

By Vickie Fulkerson

Publication: The Day

Published November 11. 2012 4:00AM

The eyes of Texas, not to mention the entire nation, remain firmly planted on center Brittney Griner and the Baylor Bears.

And with good reason.

Baylor is coming off a perfect season - the first 40-0 season in women's basketball history - and returns all five starters, led by the 6-foot-8 Griner, last year's consensus national player of the year.

UConn, meanwhile, is flying under the radar a bit, although the Huskies and coach Geno Auriemma are never far from the spotlight. Remember, UConn is less than two years removed for a 90-game win streak, the longest in college basketball history, and was also a Final Four participant a year ago.

The Huskies, ranked No. 2 in the preseason polls, will unveil their talented freshman class today when they begin the road to New Orleans and the 2013 NCAA Final Four in the season opener against College of Charleston (1:30 p.m., SNY) at Gampel Pavilion.

But Auriemma, who guided the United States to an Olympic gold medal this summer, has great admiration for Baylor.

"They've got all the things that you need to win," said Auriemma, who will bring his Huskies to Waco on Feb. 18. "There's no one area that you can say, 'Well, they're vulnerable here.' They just have all the pieces together.

"I think beating them is going to take an extraordinary effort. That's not to say it can't be done, but you're going to have to play close to a perfect game to beat them."

But the Huskies just might have the team to do it.

UConn returns four starters from a team that went 33-5, won another Big East tournament title and earned a trip to the Final Four before losing to conference rival Notre Dame.

The Huskies welcome three high school All-Americans, including 6-foot-4 Breanna Stewart - the 2012 national high school player of the year - who has the ability to play inside or on the perimeter. Morgan Tuck (6-2) gives the Huskies another versatile inside-outside threat while Moriah Jefferson (5-7) provides great speed in the backcourt.

Jefferson and sophomore Brianna Banks could play key roles early in the season while junior point guard Bria Hartley recovers from a sore ankle. Hartley, an All-Big East performer and preseason All-American, is not expected to play in today's opener.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, last year's Big East Rookie of the Year after averaging 15.0 points and 5.4 rebounds coming off the bench, steps into a starting role this season and will be joined by a pair of seniors - guards Caroline Doty and Kelly Faris - along with junior center Stefanie Dolson, another preseason All-Big East choice.

Banks will likely start if Hartley is unavailable while the three freshmen will be the first three players off the bench. Stonington's Heather Buck, a fifth-year senior, and sophomore Kiah Stokes will provide valuable size and depth in the frontcourt.

Following today's opener, the Huskies hit the road for a game at Texas A&M on Nov. 18. They will also spend their Thanksgiving holiday in the Virgin Islands playing in the Paradise Jam tourney against Wake Forest, Marist and Purdue.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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