HARTFORD, Conn. – The NCAA tournament doesn't start for more than a week, but Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is already working the officials.
The top-ranked Huskies will enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed, hoping to win an eighth title and third in a row.
But this year's team comes into the tournament with a rotation of just six players after the transfer of forward Samarie Walker to Kentucky and a late-season injury to backup center Heather Buck.
During Tuesday's 73-64 Big East championship win over Notre Dame, the Huskies played much of the second half with freshman guard Bria Hartley and sophomore Kelly Faris in foul trouble. Hartley fouled out with about a minute remaining.
Auriemma said quick whistles during the NCAA tournament could be the difference between the Huskies winning and losing.
"The NCAA tournament has always been about officiating," he said. "That's the number-one thing about the NCAA tournament. A lot of times you are seeing officials that maybe you haven't seen during the year, or haven't really officiated in our league even and know how we play."
Auriemma said the Huskies might have won their first championship in 1991 rather than in 1995, had it not been for the tight officiating in their first-ever Final Four appearance, a loss to Virginia.
"They whistled Kerry Bascom, and she could only play eight minutes in the first half and we lost," he said. "So, if your best players can't stay on the floor during the NCAA tournament, you have no chance to win."
UConn (32-1) has won 20 consecutive games since losing to Stanford on Dec. 30, a loss that snapped the Huskies' record 90-game winning streak.
Huskies star Maya Moore, who committed three fouls on Tuesday, has never fouled out of a game. And on the current roster, only Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Tiffany Hayes have fouled out this season. Dolson committed five fouls in a 65-64 win over Baylor in the second game of the year, and Hayes fouled out in a 57-51 win over West Virginia on Feb. 8.
Moore said the team knows it has a short bench, and that other teams are going to try and get them into foul trouble.
"It's going to force us to play smart," Moore said. "I think down the road it's going to help us, because the more we play smart, the less free throws they get, which is good for us."
The Irish went after the Huskies Tuesday night, and coach Muffet McGraw acknowledged after the game that the strategy may have backfired.
"Maybe that's why we missed so many shots," she said. "We were trying so hard to get them to foul us. We probably should have concentrated a little more on trying to make the shot."