UConn and Penn State will meet during the regular season tonight for the first time since a showdown at the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden Dec. 14, 2008. This will be the first time, however, that either team will play at each other’s on-campus facility during the 28-year tenure of UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
The arrival of head coach Coquese Washington, a former player and coach at Notre Dame who is in her sixth season with the Lady Lions, has been a difference-maker. Auriemma and former Penn State coach Rene Portland did not see eye to eye after she would not play the Huskies in the late 1980s because she did not deem them to be a worthy opponent at the time.
Portland resigned after 27 years in 2007. Now the teams have a two-year deal in place, with UConn set to travel to Penn State next season. Both coaches would like to see the series extended.
“I think it’s a natural,’’ Auriemma said. “We’re both East Coast schools. Coquese recruits the kind of players that I would recruit. She does things the way I would do them. I really like her. I’ve gotten to know her as a person and certainly I’ve coached against her and she played against us. So I really admire her a lot. And I think it’s a great school. It’s a great institution. And, yeah, if that works out I would love for us to play them.’’
Said Washington: “We played a couple years ago at Madison Square Garden and now we’ve got the home-and-home. I know we’d like to continue it. We’ll have to see what the contracts and what-not look like. Hopefully, this can be the beginning of a pretty nice rivalry here on the East Coast.’’
The 12-day break between games will give Auriemma some time to check in on some recruits. A source said that he will visit Class of 2014 target Jordin Canada, a 5-foot-6 point guard from Los Angeles, and Class of 2015 target Katie Lou Samuelson, a 6-2 wing from Huntington Beach, Calif., Friday. He will then visit UConn 2014 commit Courtney Ekmark, a 6-foot guard from Phoenix, Saturday and Class of 2014 target Brianna Turner, a 6-3 forward from Pearland, Texas, Tuesday.