Geno Auriemma could have spent his spring and summer lining up games with every directional and hyphenated school he could find in order to help his University of Connecticut women's basketball team break its own NCAA record 90-game winning streak.
Instead, the 13-game non-league schedule the Hall of Fame coach put together for his Huskies was designed to have them ready for postseason play in March and, they hope, April so they can make a run at another record -- an unprecedented fifth consecutive national championship.
"To play the teams we've been playing that all have different styles and strengths and weaknesses, it prepares you for what's ahead," UConn guard Kia Nurse said.
But if any team has been prepared to take on a top-five team on the road in front of a sellout crowd at the end of December, it's the Huskies.
UConn puts its No. 1 ranking and 86-game winning streak on the line Thursday when it takes on No. 4 Maryland at the sold-out Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
"I think this is a perfect way to bring the year to an end," UConn forward Gabby Williams said. "If it goes the way that we want it to, it will just kind of be the cherry on top. It isn't going to be easy, but this whole non-conference schedule hasn't been easy. So why would we expect an easy game at the end of the year?"
The Huskies (11-0) have beaten six top-25 teams -- including handing No. 2 Notre Dame, third-ranked Baylor, and No. 7 Florida State their only losses -- and a seventh that spent two weeks in the poll after they met. They've played in front of sellout crowds in South Bend and in Manhattan, Kansas. Thursday's game will draw more fans to the Xfinity Center (capacity 17,950) than the Terrapins have brought in for their first six home games combined (17,461).
It's the third Xfinity Center sellout with the previous two in the 2006-07 season when Maryland was the defending national champion.
"It's a challenge," Nurse said. "When you go on the road and play a big game, you understand that maybe two percent of the crowd is cheering for you and the rest are against you. But the way you play in that atmosphere and the way you can still feed off the energy of the game, it's a fun challenge to get through and play a great game."
UConn has won 29 consecutive road games dating back to an overtime loss at Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014. That defeat is the only one on the Huskies' record in their last 134 games.
"It's really exciting playing away games when the crowd is against you and it's really loud," UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson said. "I think it just adds to it."
Playing against the crowd isn't the issue, though, since the fans won't be shooting, rebounding or defending. The Terrapins will be doing all that and they do them well.
Maryland (12-0) leads the country in field-goal percentage (51.5) and is scoring 91.2 points per game. It also ranks second in rebounding margin (plus-18.0) and scoring margin (plus-35.8). The Terrapins' best wins were a 41-point rout of Arizona State and a six-point victory at No. 8 Louisville.
They are led by the inside-outside combination of senior forward Brionna Jones and senior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Jones torched UConn for 24 points on 12-for-14 shooting a year ago while Walker-Kimbrough was a teammate of former UConn All-Americans Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson on the 2015 United States Pan American Games team. Freshmen Destiny Slocum and Kaila Charles have made their way into the starting lineup while junior Kristen Confroy is a veteran presence.
"Obviously they cause a lot of problems because they are not one-dimensional," Nurse said. "They have a lot of players who can do a lot of different things. They play to their strengths so for us it's a matter of keying in defensively and making sure we that we execute well on the offensive end."
The Huskies will be giving up height in the post with Williams and Napheesa Collier. What else is new?
"We have been doing that all year, starting with Baylor and how big they were," Williams said. "I think people are starting to see how me and Phees can use our quickness as an advantage. We try to use our 'disadvantage' to our advantage. That fact that we are smaller also means that we are quicker. I think we read the ball off the rim really well. We can read each other. We communicate really well with each other.
"So we focus on what we're really good at rather than what they are good at. We are going to try to make their bigs play our game rather than us get caught up in their bigs' game."
UConn is playing its third straight Big Ten opponent, having already picked up wins over Ohio State and Nebraska.
After beating the Cornhuskers on Dec. 21, the Huskies went their separate ways to celebrate the Christmas holiday. They returned to Storrs Monday to begin preparations for Maryland and traveled to College Park on Wednesday.
"In some ways we're in pretty good shape," Auriemma said. "We have a couple guys who are a little bit under the weather, but we seem to be in pretty decent shape."
Senior Saniya Chong, who missed two games with concussion symptoms and then came off the bench at Nebraska, is expected to return to the starting lineup to replace freshman Crystal Dangerfield. Chong will join the Core Fore of Nurse, Williams, Samuelson and Collier.
After Thursday, the Huskies will have one non-league game remaining when they entertain No. 6 South Carolina at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 13. On Friday, they'll travel to Orlando for their American Athletic Conference opener against UCF on New Year's Day.
They'd like to enjoy the warm weather with another win under their belt.
"It's always a fun game when a team wants to challenge you in the way that you play," Nurse said. "It's fun to get up and down the floor and play in those environments, but to understand when to slow it down is always extremely important. Obviously when you play a team that's ready to go and that has the belief they can challenge you makes it a great game. And we love those."
"I can't imagine Maryland is going to do anything different," Auriemma added. "They remind me of Ohio State in that they are way more athletic and they get to the free-throw line a lot. There is nothing that I can think of where it's like, 'Oh yeah, we have a huge advantage in this game.' It's not going to be easy."
But that, after all, was Auriemma's plan.