By PAT EATON-ROBB
AP Sports Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn will return to campus from the Final Four on Sunday for the first time in five years without a national championship trophy.
But it’s not like Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma will return with nothing. His team heads into next season with a lot of talent and more experience.
Auriemma loses just one starter, senior point guard Saniya Chong, from a team that won its first 36 games and completed an NCAA record 111-game winning streak before losing to Mississippi State in overtime, 66-64, on Friday night in the national semifinals.
“When we started Oct. 15 to where we are today … these kids were way older than they were supposed to be,” Auriemma said. “They should have shown their age early on in the season, November, December, at some point. We just kept playing like older, older players, more mature players.”
They will be next season.
First-team All-Americans Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier will be juniors. Gabby Williams, who made the second team, and Kia Nurse, who made a record 22 3-point shots during the NCAA Tournament, will be seniors.
Crystal Dangerfield, who shared point guard duties with Chong, will be a sophomore.
“We’ll talk about it as a team and make our minds up to have some changes made to come back as a different team, a better team,” Dangerfield said.
Azura Stevens, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Duke, and 6-2 Batouly Camara from Kentucky will be eligible to play after sitting out this season. UConn has another top recruiting class led by 6-1 Megan Walker, the consensus national high school player of the year. That group also includes 5-10 guard Andra Espinoza-Walker from New York, 6-foot wing Lexi Gordon from Texas and 5-10 guard Mikayla Coombs from Georgia.
The Huskies remained in Dallas on Saturday. With no reason to practice, players spent the day sightseeing, visiting with family and picking up more individual awards.
Back in Storrs, there was a sense of shock and disbelief at the student union on campus as fans mulled over the loss.
“I’m a little disappointed, but I think it kind of had to happen at some point,” said Jennifer Casparino, a freshman from Newington. “Everyone was waiting to see how long the streak would go. But I don’t expect them to lose again any time soon.”
The Huskies’ return usually means a parade and a ceremony inside the Gampel Pavilion basketball area. But the school had not announced any plans for any welcome-home festivities on Sunday.
Lily Edeen, a freshman from Wallingford, said if fans know when the team’s bus will arrive, they probably will be there to greet them.
“What I always say is that this school is cows and basketball, so people are definitely going to continue to support their basketball team,” she said.