There are few, if any, college basketball arenas in the nation with the history and tradition of UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
The 11-time national champion University of Connecticut women's basketball team will play under the UCLA men's 11 national championship banners for the second time in its history Tuesday night. The No. 1 Huskies figure to have their toughest matchup of the young season as they take on the fifth-ranked Bruins in a nationally-televised showdown.
Though UConn's only previous appearance at Pauley Pavilion was 19 years ago, it was historic. The game marked the first time Diana Taurasi watched the Huskies in person -- the Chino, California, native chose UConn over UCLA a year later -- and included the only technical foul of Sue Bird's college career. The 102 points the Bruins scored in the 11-point loss to the Huskies marks the only time an opponent has reached triple figures against a Geno Auriemma-coached UConn team in the 1,129 games of his Hall of Fame career.
So the Huskies (3-0) are back. They arrived in Los Angeles early Monday morning and practiced at Pauley Pavilion in the afternoon.
"They present lots of challenges," Auriemma said. "Their transition game, their rebounding … They don't have some of the shooters that they had last season so it is a little different. But I don't know that there are any more athletic teams than UCLA anywhere in the country."
UConn will be playing its fourth straight ranked opponent and its third in five days. The Huskies were home for the previous two games and made it look easy in routs of California-Berkeley and Maryland.
After taking care of the Terrapins 97-72 on Sunday at XL Center, UConn headed to the airport for its cross-country commercial flight hoping the 3,000-mile journey wouldn't take much out of it.
"It depends what kind of travel," said Auriemma, whose Huskies face Michigan State in Oregon on Saturday and Nevada-Reno, a homecoming game for Gabby Williams, on Nov. 28. "If you're fortunate enough and can charter and get a nice big plane and kick back and relax that's one thing. If you have sit at an airport and wait and wait and wait and then get a plane and you have all these big kids jammed in there on a cross country flight, that's another thing. And then it is a matter of being mature. Age has nothing to do with it. It's a matter of if you're mature enough to take care of yourself and do what you need to do to travel successfully."
Tuesday night's contest, a return game for UCLA's visit to Connecticut three years ago, was supposed to be a homecoming for Huntington Beach, California, native Katie Lou Samuelson. But the junior All-American sprained her left foot in last Friday's win over California and will not play.
"It's incredibly frustrating for her I'm sure," Auriemma said. "The injury is frustrating itself. Being injured at the time you're going home to play in front of your family, I'm sure she is pretty upset about it. But there is nothing that could have been done to prevent it and there is nothing you can do now. It's a shame, but you just have to make the most of it."
Azura Stevens stepped into Samuelson's spot in the starting lineup Sunday and had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Maryland.
UCLA (3-0) is coming off a home win over Baylor Saturday. The Bruins, who lost to UConn in the NCAA Sweet 16 in Bridgeport last March, have one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country in senior guard Jordin Canada and senior center Monique Billings.
"Their talent and their skill level is huge," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "You have a point guard like Canada, who takes a lot of shots at a high percent and also finds people. Then you have Billings, who does a lot of things for them. They also have great defensive intensity so it will be a great game.
"When you have athleticism like they do, it's easy to do a lot of things defensively and keep everyone on their toes as to what they want to do."
The task of dealing with Canada will fall to sophomore point guard Crystal Dangerfield.
"She has great speed and she has a great basketball IQ," Dangerfield said. "She pushes the ball, make or miss, and has an attack mentality all game. She is also a very versatile player who can take it to the rim and can shoot outside. I knew we had UCLA early in the season so being ready to play against her has been a focus for me."
Dealing with Billings will also be difficult.
She has a five-inch height advantage on Williams, an All-American, and may be Williams' match athletically. Stevens is two inches taller than Billings, but is still a work in progress defending in the post.
"Monique Billings is ridiculous," Auriemma said. "I marvel when I watch her play on tape or in person. I saw her at the U-23 tryouts this summer and. I was like, 'Wow!' She is aggressive and athletic. She is a competitor. She is a lot of things. She is a great free throw shooter so you can't foul her. She is a handful."
Of course, it's not like UConn doesn't have its share of weapons.
The Huskies placed six players in double figures and three had double-doubles Sunday. In last March's win over UCLA, All-American Napheesa Collier had 27 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
But without Samuelson and Batouly Camara (right knee), UConn must avoid foul trouble, though freshman Megan Walker (12 points, seven rebounds) played well off the bench Sunday.
"I think we're searching," Auriemma said. "I'm hoping Megan can do a little bit of what she showed (Sunday), but beyond that I think we have some work to do."
UConn has won a record 38 straight true road games and 16 in a row against top-five opponents.