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As you might have heard, Tuesday's regional final in Philadelphia (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) won't be the first meeting this season between Connecticut and Duke. Whatever value that 87-51 Connecticut victory on Jan. 31 has, either as a blueprint for the top seed or more motivational fodder for Duke, there are at least a few other X factors worth considering.
|Duke's Chelsea Gray is averaging 8.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals as a freshman.|
Depth: Yes, it's the word Connecticut loves to hate. Or maybe just the word it hates. But when one team played 11 players in a regional semifinal, as Duke did against DePaul and does with regularity, and the other played just six players, including two for the full 40 minutes against a taxing defense, depth is going to be a topic of discussion. Connecticut, of course, is used to its rotation, and as the Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs pointed out during the Big East tournament, it has won a lot of championships without needing to wash a lot of dirty uniforms.
But more than fatigue, fouls could be one possible undoing for the Huskies. DePaul might well have completed its comeback against Duke if its best scorer, Keisha Hampton, hadn't fouled out with more than six minutes to play. If one or more Huskies find themselves in similar trouble, depth will matter.
Ball control: Connecticut is a team that generally has five good passers on the floor at any one time, but it's also a team that is slightly more turnover-prone than last season and significantly more so than Renee Montgomery's last team (13.7 turnovers per game in 2008-09 and 15.3 per game this season). That was one route Georgetown used to make inroads versus UConn in the Sweet 16, and there were times during the Duke-UConn game in January -- admittedly, long after the game had been decided in about the first 300 seconds -- when Duke's pressure seemed to speed up Connecticut past the point of comfort. If the Huskies can avoid careless giveaways, it denies Duke its best weapon.
Duke's shooting: It's an easy thing to keep harping on, but it's next to impossible to beat Connecticut if you're counting by 1s and 2s alone -- the Huskies are too efficient an offensive team and too good on defense to beat that way. Even Stanford hit seven 3-pointers when it broke Connecticut's winning streak in December. So will one or more of the Blue Devils answer the call? After some improvement from long range over last season, they're shooting 27.7 percent (13-of-47) in the NCAA tournament.
Duke's Chelsea Gray vs. UConn's Bria Hartley: Both teams make use of a lot of freshman minutes, and both Hartley and Gray have proven over the course of the season that they don't play like freshmen when the game is on the line.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.