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In women’s NCAA basketball regional, UConn not taking Maryland lightly

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, second from left speaks with players Kelly Faris, left, Bria Hartley, second from right, and Caroline Doty, right, during the second half of a first-round game against Idaho in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Storrs, Conn., Saturday, March 23, 2013. Connecticut won 105-37. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut is favored to beat Maryland, but not by much. (AP)Credit: AP

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Geno Auriemma hasn’t lost too many NCAA Tournament games in the state of Connecticut.

The Hall of Fame coach was hard-pressed to remember a harder regional than the one his Huskies will face in Bridgeport. UConn opens up in the semifinals against Maryland Saturday. Second-seeded Kentucky will face Elena Delle Donne and No. 6 Delaware in the other game.

In the Spokane Regional, No. 1 Stanford (33-2) will meet fourth-seeded Georgia (27-6) , followed by sixth-seeded LSU (22-11) and No. 2 California (30-3).

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Stanford is two wins away from becoming the first program to reach six consecutive Final Fours, although Connecticut also has a chance to match that streak this season. Georgia and LSU have been to multiple Final Fours in their respective histories. California is the relative newcomer, having never before reached the regional finals.

‘‘I think this is one of the more difficult first-round games of the regionals. And the other game, yeah, you got really good players on every team,’’ Auriemma said about his team’s matchup with Maryland. ‘‘I’m sure every region has got their own, but I don’t know that anyone has more than what exists here. Kentucky’s back again and Maryland’s in again.’’

If Delaware and UConn do make it through, it would set up an intriguing finals matchup. Delle Donne originally signed with UConn before abruptly leaving after a short stay to return home to Delaware.

‘‘I haven’t allowed myself to think about that,’’ Delle Donne said. ‘‘All year our team has said just focused on the next game. If we were thinking about UConn, we’d overlook Kentucky. We’re focused on Kentucky to hopefully advance.’’

Delle Donne is one of three reigning conference players of the year still around in Bridgeport. Many fans might be surprised to learn UConn is the only team that doesn’t have one.

The Huskies have already played the Terrapins earlier this season, beating Maryland by 15 points in December. Two-time ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas had just 6 points in that game. UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis played five minutes before suffering a concussion. She’s healthy now.

‘‘With her in the game, it’s going to make it a lot more difficult for them to defend us and make our offense run a little bit smoother,’’ said UConn center Stefanie Dolson, who practiced sparingly this past week while resting stress injuries in her right ankle and left foot.

Maryland lost three players this season to ACL injuries, including the expected starting backcourt. It hasn’t mattered as players have stepped up, including Thomas. The junior guard has averaged 28.5 points in the NCAA Tournament so far.

‘‘She thrives on a competitive stage,’’ Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. ‘‘The bigger stage, the bigger the moment, she wants to be a part of it and thrives to excel.’’

Frese opted for a different mode to get to Connecticut, having her team ride the train up from Maryland.

‘‘We felt like it would be a tremendous experience for a lot of our players,’’ Frese said. ‘‘I asked them and over three quarters of them had never taken the train. To give them that experience through basketball was a phenomenal opportunity and one we really enjoyed together.’’

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