ALBANY, N.Y. -- Geno Auriemma doesn't know new University of Connecticut men's basketball coach Dan Hurley all that well, but that, of course, will change when Hurley gets settled in a bit in Storrs and Auriemma and his women's team wrap up their run in the NCAA tournament.
But the good feelings about Hurley's hire in Connecticut made their way to the Times Union Center here where Auriemma and the top-seeded Huskies will go for their 11th consecutive Final Four berth against No. 2 and reigning national champion South Carolina Monday night in the Albany Regional final.
"I think there's a lot of excitement around the program about the hire and there's a lot of energy coming with Dan joining Connecticut," Auriemma said. "I think he'll do a great job. It's a great job to be in.
"We all want to be at a school that's good in everything they do. Connecticut men's basketball is one of the great brands in college basketball in at least the last 20 years. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that? For whatever reason it hasn't worked out the last couple of years and hopefully we'll get back on track."
Auriemma had a very good relationship over the years with Kevin Ollie, who guided his team to the 2014 national championship. It was the second time one school won both the men's and women's NCAA titles with UConn also doing it in 2004. No one else has done it once.
But Ollie was fired after his Huskies' second consecutive losing season and Hurley, who coached Rhode Island to back-to-back NCAA tournament berths, was brought in.
Auriemma again talked about the strength of UConn's brand.
"You can say what you will about how long does it really take to go from, 'You're a brand that has won four national championships in 20 years' to all of a sudden, 'We've lost it?'" Auriemma said. "I don't know that it happens quickly. Sometimes people want it to happen quickly, but this isn't one of those things where Connecticut's going away. We're still Connecticut basketball. We still have something very few other schools do have. Sometimes you just have to make some adjustments and everybody needs to go through that at some point.
"The last coach we hired won a national championship in his second year. So, anything's possible, right?"
STEVENS SURVIVES, ADVANCES
UConn forward Azura Stevens made her first appearance in Saturday's game against Duke midway through the first quarter and walked onto the floor with her warmup jacket still on. On her first possession, she got the ball in the lane, turned, and threw up an airball. The Blue Devils' bench erupted as if Duke had just won the national championship.
"I did notice that," Stevens said.
"There were certainly some jitters when I first went out there," she added. "But as the game went on I was just trying to make an impact and be a presence."
A foul and turnover followed within the next minute. But Stevens, who spent her first two years at Duke before transferring to UConn in 2016, settled down. In 18 minutes, she'd record eight points, 12 rebounds, and three blocked shots as UConn ousted No. 5 Duke 72-59.
"You know she wanted to go out there and dominate in this kind of game, but for us we just needed her to go out there and bang with the bigs and get some rebounds and take over if we needed her to," UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson said. "Duke did a pretty good job on us in the lane and all of us had trouble finishing. That's a credit to Duke. But Z did what she needed for us to get the win."
The Raleigh, North Carolina, native became the second player to transfer in to UConn and face her former team in the NCAA tournament. The first was another transfer from Duke, Brittany Hunter, who played five minutes against the Blue Devils and did not score in an overtime loss in the 2006 Bridgeport Regional final.
When Stevens was asked Saturday if she was glad the game was over, she said, "Yes, I am."
The showdown with South Carolina Monday night will be Stevens' first Elite Eight game. She had just two points, three rebounds, and four fouls in 17 minutes in the Huskies' win over the Gamecocks in Columbia on Feb. 1.
"It helps we've played them before so we know what we're getting into," Stevens said. "For me, I need to be strong and tough in the lane, offensively and defensively, and make their big guys work."
The two former teammates at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California, played their first game against each other in the capital of New York state. And in the first quarter, UConn All-American Samuelson and Duke freshman Jayda Adams stood next to each other.
"She pinched me and I tapped her back, so it was like old times out there," Adams said with a smile.
Samuelson played 37 minutes and had 15 points in the Huskies' win. Adams was first off the Duke bench and finished with five points, three rebounds, and two assists in 22 minutes.
"It's hard in these kind of games because you have to be serious and we're both after the same things and the stakes are high," Samuelson said. "But it was awesome to have Jayda out there and getting great minutes. She was able to make an impact as a freshman and she's only going to get better."
It was a learning experience.
With about 5:00 left, UConn's Gabby Williams made a steal and raced down the floor with teammate Kia Nurse for a 2-on-1 with Adams back. What chance did a freshman have against the two seniors? Very little. The Huskies' All-American kept the ball and scored as she drew a foul.
"I tried to play it like it was anyone else, try to bait her and see if she would make a mistake but she didn't," Adams said. "She can jump. She is really athletic. I wasn't trying to foul her but it happened."
Adams will give herself a couple days off -- "I don't like being away from the gym," she said. -- before trying to build on her experiences.
RECRUIT WILLIAMS ADDS GATORADE HONOR
It's been a memorable March for UConn Class of 2018 signee Christyn Williams.
The 5-foot-11 senior guard from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Central Arkansas Christian was named the Gatorade national Player of the Year on Saturday. She is the third UConn recruit in four years to win the honor joining Megan Walker (2017) and Samuelson (2015). As with Walker and Samuelson, Williams was presented the award by WNBA star and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Elena Delle Donne.
Earlier this month, Williams was honored with the Naismith Trophy and Morgan Wootten Award and was also the WBCA Player of the Year.
She averaged 26.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in leading CAC (36-1) to the Class 4A state championship. In three state tournament games, she averaged 39.0 points and had 42 points and 11 rebounds in the final against Riverview.
Williams will take part in the McDonald's All-America Game in Atlanta on Wednesday, and the Jordan Brand Classic at the Barclays Center in New York on April 8.
35 AND UP
UConn clinched its sixth straight 35-win season by beating Duke.
The Huskies have reached 35 wins 14 times (1995, 2000, 2002-03, 2008-11, 2013-18). The rest of the country has done in 16 times since 1982. Notre Dame has four 35-win seasons, Stanford and Tennessee three each, Baylor two, and Duke, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, and Mississippi State one each. The Cardinals and Bulldogs joined the club with their Sweet 16 wins on Friday.
Oregon can get to 35 wins by reaching the national championship game while Notre Dame can do it by winning the national championship. The Ducks and Irish play in the Spokane (Washington) Regional final Monday night.
The UConn-South Carolina winner will face the Notre Dame-Oregon winner this Friday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
With strong showings from UConn and Buffalo fans, the Albany Regional semifinals drew 10,658 to far outdistance the other regional sites. Spokane had 5,084 for its Sweet 16 games on Saturday. On Friday, Kansas City had 4,280 fans while Lexington (Kentucky) had 5,715. More than 8,000 tickets have been sold for the regional final at the Times Union Center ... UConn has not lost in the Sweet 16 since falling to Stanford in 2005 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. The Huskies' only other regional semifinal loss came in 1999 to Iowa State in Cincinnati ... Gabby Williams had seven rebounds Saturday and is eight away from becoming the seventh UConn player with 1,000 ... UConn is 18-5 in Elite Eight games overall and 5-2 against Southeastern Conference opponents. The wins were over Vanderbilt (1996), LSU (2000), Kentucky (2012, 2013), and Texas A&M (2014), with the losses to Tennessee (1997) and LSU (2007).