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Bridgeport Region preview: Everybody's chasing the Huskies

Women's College Basketball, Connecticut Huskies, Texas Longhorns, UCLA Bruins, Michigan State Spartans, South Florida Bulls, Chattanooga Lady Mocs, BYU Cougars, Colorado State Rams

UConn is the No. 1 overall seed and the top team in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Can anyone unseat the Huskies in their quest to win four consecutive NCAA titles? A look at the top storylines in this corner of the bracket.

Three observations

1. Top-seeded UConn actually isn't the only defending champion of a national tournament that is in this region. UCLA won the WNIT title last season. Admittedly, that's a consolation prize nobody really dreams of getting -- but let's look on the bright side. It allowed the Bruins to play six games in the postseason in 2015 and gain experience from that, even if they weren't in the NCAA tournament.

Half of those WNIT victories came on the road, including at Michigan in the semifinals and at West Virginia in the final. But the Bruins -- who recently made it to the Pac-12 tournament title game, losing to Oregon State -- will be at home in Pauley Pavilion to start NCAA tournament play this year.

This is the Bruins' fourth trip to the Big Dance in the past decade, and the third time in that stretch that they've been a No. 3 seed. UCLA is hoping to advance beyond the early rounds for the first time since 1999, when the Bruins made it to the Elite Eight.

2. As a No. 6 seed, South Florida would love to pull a couple of upsets and make it to the Elite Eight. But the Bulls' opponent there, almost certainly, would be UConn -- the team they've already lost to three times this season.

South Florida did have the lead at halftime over the Huskies when they met at Storrs, Connecticut, in the regular-season finale on Feb. 29. But the bottom line was still three double-digit losses for the Bulls.

They'll have to start this NCAA tournament quest a long way from home, meeting Colorado State in the first round at UCLA.

3. You've surely heard of the term "bridge to nowhere." In the case of this Bridgeport Region, that's what it looks like for any team other than UConn. But just for old time's sake, let's briefly revisit a time, surreal as it seems now, that the Huskies lost in Bridgeport.

It was 2006, when Gail Goestenkors' Duke team beat UConn 63-61 in overtime. It wasn't actually an upset, though: the Blue Devils were the top seed in that region, and the Huskies were No. 2. Duke center Alison Bales nearly had a triple-double, with 15 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Barbara Turner had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Huskies, who also would fall in the 2007 Elite Eight before starting their current streak of eight consecutive Final Four appearances.

Among the still-active WNBA players who were on the floor that night in Bridgeport 10 years ago are Minnesota's Renee Montgomery (15 points) for UConn, and Phoenix's Monique Currie (14 points) and Mistie Bass (eight points) for Duke. -- Mechelle Voepel

Three players to watch

Jordin Canada, UCLA: This could well be the tournament when the rest of the country finds out what the Pac-12 learned throughout the season: Canada is ready to take her place among the best players in the country. All she did during her sophomore season was lead the league in assists, rank second in steals, third in assist-to-turnover ratio and sixth in scoring. As she showed most recently in a Pac-12 tournament semifinal against California, she's able to take over a game herself or run it for others. There was another sophomore point guard like that who used the NCAA tournament as a springboard to stardom the last time the Final Four was in Indianapolis. Things worked out well for Skylar Diggins after that. Canada might be next.

Aerial Powers, Michigan State: Three seasons into her on-court career at Michigan State (she also sat out a year with injury), Powers remains a tantalizing talent who can play her team into any game -- and occasionally out of the same. But the turnovers are far fewer in number and the field goal percentage noticeably better this season, which means it is far more often left to opposing defenses to stop her. It is possible Powers is a bit too fond of the 3-point shot, but her willingness to take and make enough of those shots forces defenders into an impossible choice. As the frequency with which she gets to the free throw line attests, few defenders are quick enough or strong enough to guard her close from the 3-point line to the basket.

Kalani Purcell, BYU: There is a great deal of attention on BYU's Lexi Rydalch -- and for good reason. Rydalch is one of the leading scorers in the tournament field and the kind of talent that makes her team a favorite against Missouri and a potential headache for Texas. But part of the reason BYU is here again after losing Jennifer Hamson and Morgan Bailey in successive seasons is that the Cougars still have a postseason-caliber inside-outside partnership. A junior college transfer in her first season in Provo, Purcell is the leading rebounder among tournament participants. The amazing part is that the 6-foot-2 forward is also 25th in assists among all players in the tournament. She's a triple-double waiting to happen ever game. -- Graham Hays

Best first-round game

(7) BYU vs. (10) Missouri (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

As is so often the case in March, the beginning of one story merges with the final chapter of another. It's the last chance for Rydalch, who got a taste of the Sweet 16 as a sophomore and hasn't stopped scoring points since. But this is also the first tournament for Missouri freshman Sophie Cunningham, who lived up to expectations as the kind of recruit who might fit as the final piece of the puzzle that coach Robin Pingeton put together.

A hometown product who is versatile enough at 6-foot-1 to not only lead Missouri in scoring but rank second in assists, rebounds and 3-pointers, Cunningham unquestionably experienced the reality of SEC basketball the hard way. The difference between her production in and out of conference was dramatic, but back-to-back 20-10 games late in the regular season against Auburn and Kentucky and good production throughout February suggest a corner turned.

And in the case of both teams, there is a lot to work with beyond the leading scorers, be it inside from BYU's Purcell and Missouri's Jordan Frericks or at the 3-point line from BYU's Makenzie Pulsipher and Missouri's Morgan Stock. BYU shoots the 3-pointer better and takes better care of the ball, about the only statistical differences between the teams, but it also accumulated those numbers against a West Coast Conference that is deep but is not the SEC. -- Graham Hays

Upset alert

(5) Mississippi State vs. (12) Chattanooga: Chattanooga coach Jim Foster is no stranger to the tournament, and his players are familiar with going into SEC gyms and holding their own. Just ask Tennessee. So while Mississippi State is the fortunate No. 5 seed able to host, it won't have an easy opener in Starkville. The Lady Mocs stumbled briefly in conference play and had some anemic offensive showings at times this season, but Mississippi State put up big offensive numbers only against the extensive cupcake portion of its schedule. This could be a defensive grinder, which suits Chattanooga. -- Graham Hays

Team with the most to prove

(11) Colorado State: While the selection committee has a habit of treating mid-major teams harshly when it comes to seeding (see: Princeton a season ago), it's difficult to get worked up about one-loss Colorado State down here in double digits. Watch the Rams and you see a balanced, quality team that looks better than this seed, but the schedule was far from strenuous. The Rams have faced a scorer like South Florida's Williams before, surviving 29 points from BYU's Rydalch in their best win of the season, so the opportunity is there for them to validate their record. -- Graham Hays

Matchup we'd most like to see

(3) UCLA vs. (2) Texas in the Sweet 16: Like everything else about this part of the bracket, the shadow looming over this is that the prize is a game against prohibitive favorite Connecticut. Still, it would be fun to see two programs of historical significance continue climb back to that status and meet in Bridgeport. Although not identical in style or design, there is enough overlap to create some interesting games within the game, particularly UCLA's Monique Billings and Kacy Swain (assuming she returns from a knee injury that kept her out of the Pac-12 tournament) giving up inches but little else to Texas' Imani Boyette and Kelsey Lang. -- Graham Hays

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