STORRS, Conn. -- Katie Lou Samuelson takes pride in what the University of Connecticut women's basketball team has accomplished the last four months.
But what the Huskies do the next three weeks is what they'll be remembered for.
"We've done a lot of things people didn't expect this season," Samuelson said Monday after UConn was given the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament and the top seed for the Bridgeport Regional. "We all kind of thought we could do it, but we didn't look so far ahead. We took every single game one game at a time, and I think that's why we had the success we did because we weren't looking ahead to the streak or anything else going on. We just kind of focused on what we had to do that day.
"These games coming up, we know that every single game is a new battle now. We don't have anything guaranteed. So we have to put aside what we have done and be ready to go."
The unbeaten Huskies, who are making their 29th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance having received the American Athletic Conference's automatic bid, will entertain America East tournament champion and No. 16 seed Albany in first-round action Saturday at 11 a.m. at Gampel Pavilion.
The UConn-Albany winner will face either No. 8 Syracuse or ninth-seeded Iowa State next Monday at Gampel Pavilion for a spot in the Sweet 16 on March 25 at Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena.
"It is what it is, and in the tournament you have to beat some really good teams," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "There's a bunch of them in our bracket. There's a bunch of them in every bracket. Everyone thinks they have the hardest bracket and they're probably right."
The Huskies (32-0) are a No. 1 regional seed for the 11th consecutive season and the 20th time in the last 24 seasons. They are the overall No. 1 for the fourth straight year.
Duke, the runner-up to Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, was given the No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport Regional. The Blue Devils are the only team to record a NCAA tournament win over UConn in Connecticut since 1993, defeating the Huskies 63-61 in overtime in the 2006 Elite Eight in Bridgeport.
Big Ten champion Maryland is the No. 3 seed. UConn held off the Terrapins 87-81 on Dec. 29 in College Park, Maryland. UCLA out of the Pac-12 is the No. 4 seed.
The other No. 1 seeds are Notre Dame (Lexington, Kentucky), Baylor (Oklahoma City) and South Carolina (Stockton, California). The Bridgeport Regional winner will face the Oklahoma City Regional winner in one national semifinal March 31 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
UConn owns wins over the other three tops seeds.
"It just comes down to the best team at the end of three weekends is going to be the national champion," Auriemma said. "That's the way it is. We've won the national championship being a No. 1 seed and we've lost the national championship as a No. 1 seed. You still got to win, you still have to play.
"When you have the schedule we've had, it's hard to get a bracket that doesn't have at the top a bunch of teams you haven't already played. I'm not surprised, Duke, Maryland, UCLA ... I'm not surprised one iota. Is that the best 2, 3, 4 in the brackets? I don't know. I'm sure everyone thinks their 2-3-4 is the toughest. The biggest surprise to me was West Virginia at 6. They're way better than a 6-seed. I saw what they did (in the Big 12 tournament), now that they're healthy."
Out of the Huskies 13 non-conference opponents, 12 are in the NCAA tournament field.
Albany (21-11) is making its sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance as the America East automatic qualifier and the first under coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, who took the job after Katie Abrahamson-Henderson left to take over at Central Florida last offseason.
The Great Danes have won six in a row and 12 out of 13 since falling to 9-10 following a loss to Maine on Jan. 22. They were the No. 2 seed for the America East Tournament and knocked off Vermont 65-45 and Hartford 67-65 to advance to last Friday's final. Playing at home, Albany defeated No. 4 Maine 66-50.
Two players average in double figures for the Great Danes: senior guard Imani Tate (19.1) and junior wing Jessica Fequiere (12.4).
The teams have no common opponents this season. UConn won its only meeting with Albany 78-44 at the Hartford Civic Center in 2005.
A game with Syracuse would be a rematch of last April's 82-51 national championship victory.
"It's always fun to play against them," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "But we have to play against the guards at Albany first."
Bill Fennelly, Iowa State's coach, is one of three people to coach against the Huskies in the NCAA tournament with two different teams. In 1991, he was the coach at Toledo when UConn won its first NCAA game by beating the Rockets 81-80. He also coached the Cyclones to an upset of UConn in the 1999 Mideast Regional semifinals. UConn won the last meeting with Iowa State 74-36 in the 2010 Sweet 16 in Dayton, Ohio.
Bridgeport is hosting a regional for the second straight year and third time overall. UConn could get to Dallas without leaving the state.
"Sometimes being home is OK and sometimes being at home is not OK," Auriemma said. "There are a lot of distractions being at home. At NCAA tournament time, I worry about being at home. I'll be happy that school is starting up again next week."
And the players are happy they know what's ahead of them.
"We have to make sure we're in the right mindset," Samuelson said. "We're all excited to get games started because it seems like we've been practicing for awhile."
UConn Class of 2017 signees Megan Walker (6-foot-1 wing, Chesterfield, Virginia), Mikayla Coombs (5-foot-8 guard, Buford, Georgia) and Andra Espinoza-Hunter (5-foot-11 guard, Ossining, New York) were named their respective state's Gatorade Player of the Year on Monday.
It's the second state honor for Walker and the first for Coombs and Espinoza-Hunter. State winners become eligible for the national Gatorade Player of the Year award to be announced later this week.
Walker, who was named the WBCA Player of the Year last week, averaged 25.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals in leading Monacan High to a 30-0 record and a third straight Virginia state Class 4A championship. She reached the 2,000-point plateau. In last Friday's title game, Walker capped a 35-point performance by hitting a jumper with 15 seconds left to give Monacan a 60-59 win over Kings Fork.
Coombs averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists, pacing the Wesleyan School to a 28-4 record and the Georgia Class A Private school state crown. In the final, Coombs led a rally from a 17-point deficit to lift Wesleyan past Holy Innocents 51-48 last Friday. She reached the 1,000-point plateau during her senior year.
Espinoza-Hunter is averaging 37.8 points, seven rebounds and 3.3 assists for Ossining High (21-5), which will face Our Lady of Mercy in the Class AA state semifinals on March 27 at Hudson Valley Community College. Espinoza-Hunter had 40 points Saturday as Ossining closed on a 16-3 run to defeat Elmira 87-80 and reach the final four.
UConn Class of 2018 recruiting target Christyn Williams was named Arkansas Player of the Year for the second straight season, while 2019 recruiting target Aliyah Boston out of Worcester Academy was the Massachusetts Player of the Year.