DALLAS -- Geno Auriemma wanted to prove a point to his University of Connecticut women's basketball team Thursday about the Huskies' 60-point win over Mississippi State in last year's NCAA Sweet 16 victory.
So the 2017 Coach of the Year was awake early and watched tape. Moriah Jefferson was here, Morgan Tuck there, and Breanna Stewart everywhere as UConn did a number on the Bulldogs in the most lopsided regional semifinal win in tournament history. His emphasis later in the day to the Huskies in the locker room and at their workout, though, was on what he did not see.
"There's nobody on our team right now that had anything other than, 'I was at that game,' to do with that score," Auriemma said. "If you watch that game, Stewie looked like an NBA player playing against high school kids. Moriah was so much better than anybody on the floor. And Tuck just dominated long stretches of the game. So the score was 32-4 at the end of the first quarter."
Stewart (14), Tuck (8), and Jefferson (4) combined for 26 first-quarter points in the 98-38 rout in Bridgeport. Katie Lou Samuelson had two layups and Kia Nurse one to account for the other six points.
"And the other guys didn't even play," Auriemma said. "If they think they had anything to do with that win, they're going to be reminded they didn't. This is not the same Mississippi State team we played. The turnaround they've made offensively has been remarkable. They're still the same defensive team that they were. And we're not the same team by any stretch of the imagination. If those three seniors were here, I would have a tough time convincing them. But it won't be tough with this team."
The four-time reigning national champion Huskies and Bulldogs meet again Friday night, this time in a NCAA Final Four semifinal game at the American Airlines Center. Tipoff is at approximately 10 p.m., the latest of the season.
It's a rematch Mississippi State has waited for and wanted for 53 weeks.
"Coming back to school from the tournament last year, honestly, I didn't even want to go to class the next day," Mississippi State All-American Victoria Vivians said. "You really couldn't explain it because it is 60 points. Just going back to work out again, we walked in the weight room and there was a big 60 on the glass. It was crazy that we were still seeing it after we lost. It was always a reminder in our heads, and then we had to watch film on it. Just seeing it or hearing about it all the time has been a reminder for us, 'Don't let it happen again.' "
The Bulldogs (33-4) advanced to their first Final Four riding a stirring 41-point, seven-assist performance from point guard Morgan William to a 94-85 overtime surprise of top-seeded Baylor last Monday in the Oklahoma City Regional final. William scored two points on 1-for-8 shooting against the Huskies a year ago and it was a struggle.
She had plenty of company in that department. But while Mississippi State has many of the same players that took the floor at Webster Bank Arena, it claims that it's a different team.
"Our team has grown a lot since last year," Vivians said. "We're better, smarter and doing a lot of things different. UConn is not the team they were last year when they had the three top draft picks. I feel like we have a better chance to beat them than last year. They are still pretty good. They are No. 1 and haven't lost a game. It will take everything we have in us, everything in our heart. We are going to have to grind out every possession and not take any plays off."
While UConn will try to forget about last year, it will do its best to remind Mississippi State of it.
The Huskies (36-0 and winners of 111 straight) can do that with a quick start like they had in last Monday's regional final rout of Oregon.
"Coming out and throwing the first punch, imposing our will, and getting into the flow of the game is what we want regardless of the opponent," Nurse said. "Especially in games like this you want to go out and put a little doubt in their minds. People don't back down at this point. They're here for a reason and it's because they're very good. That's why we need to start fast.
"When you bring back as many players as they did -- Vivians, William, (Teaira) McCowan ... They were all sophomores last year. They have a lot more experience coming into this tournament. They can score, they have a presence inside and outside, and that makes them dangerous."
UConn will be undersized against the 6-foot-7 McCowan and 6-foot-5 Chinwe Okorie on Mississippi State's front line. Of course, All-American forwards Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams have been dealing with that issue successfully all season by using their speed and quickness to their advantage.
The Huskies' defense dominated on the perimeter a year ago, but the Bulldogs made 10-of-20 from 3-point land against Baylor, burying the Bears with treys much like Louisville did to them in Oklahoma City in one of the tournament's greatest upsets four years ago.
"I thought in the beginning of the season offensively they were good but not as good as they are right now," Auriemma said. "The thing everyone has to remember now ... I don't care how good your defense is because when you get to this point of the season you're not going to win this thing with your defense. You have to play good defense, don't get me wrong. But if you can't score it's really hard to win."
The Huskies have scored at least 86 points in their four NCAA tournament games and are averaging 96.5 points. They are shooting 58.7 percent from the floor and 46.6 percent from behind the arc, though they would like to get Samuelson back on track. Since making 10-for-10 from distance against South Florida in the American Athletic Conference Tournament final, the All-American guard is 6-for-25.
Samuelson did finish with 21 points against Mississippi State a year ago.
"Last year as we all know was a completely different year," Samuelson said. "We have had such a different team and schedule. Everything we have done has been so different from last year that we really haven't tried to compare anything to last year. I think that's why we have been successful this year.
"So that's why we look at Mississippi State from the perspective of what they have done this year, and based on what they have accomplished they deserve to be here. They want to win just like every other team here."
While Mississippi State has not been to the Final Four before, it has staff members that have. Fifth-year head coach Vic Schaefer was an assistant to coach Gary Blair on Texas A&M's 2011 national championship team that beat Notre Dame in the final. Also, assistant coach Dionnah Jackson-Durrett was a starting guard for Oklahoma in the 2002 national championship against the Huskies at the Alamodone in San Antonio.
"We know we have a tremendous challenge in front of us going against a team that's the best program in the history of the game, coached by the best coach in the history of the game, men or women," Schaefer said. "We've had to deal with it before. Obviously we dealt with it last year, and it wasn't a real good experience. But I think we've grown from that day. We've learned from it."
But so have the Huskies, who have an 18-game winning streak against Southeastern Conference opponents.
The UConn-Mississippi State winner will face either South Carolina or Stanford for the national championship here Sunday night.
"When you're in the Final Four it's not hard to get motivated for anything," Collier said. "We're not expecting it to play out the way it did last year. They are a totally different team from last year and so are we."
All the Huskies want is the same result.