Before Saturday, it had been two years since Morgan Tuck participated in a NCAA tournament game. After suffering a knee injury in the early part of last season, Tuck missed the remainder of the year, including the team’s run to the program’s ninth championship.
“It was pretty hard sitting out and watching, pretty much just being a cheerleader,” Tuck said.
Tuck was the furthest thing from a cheerleader on Saturday night. The redshirt sophomore dominated inside the paint and powered UConn to an 89-33 victory over No. 16 St. Francis Brooklyn.
Tuck scored a career-high 26 points on 12-of-13 shooting, while dishing out a career-high eight assists.
“Morgan was a beast like always,” point guard Moriah Jefferson said. “She makes it really easy as a point guard just to dump it in; she’s going to knock down those layups.”
Freshman Kia Nurse showed no nerves in her first NCAA tournament game, knocking down her first two 3-pointers. Tuck added 10 quick points to open up an 18-11 lead.
“The combination of what Morgan was doing in the lane and what Kia Nurse started the game off doing, that’s exactly the way you want to start any game, especially a NCAA tournament game,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said.
St. Francis’s early 11 points all came before the first media timeout thanks to two 3-pointers from Canton, Connecticut native Sarah Benedetti and one from Jaymee Veney.
But UConn then went on one of its all too familiar runs to separate themselves from the opposition. The Huskies went on an 18-0 run to extend the lead to 34-11. A Benedetti three ended that run with 7:41 left in the half, but that proved to be the Terriers last points of the half.
The Huskies then went on a 13-0 run to end the half to stretch its lead to 47-14.
Tuck scored 20 points in the first half while Kia Nurse scored 12 points on four made 3-pointers. Benedetti and Veney were the only players to score in the first half for St. Francis.
UConn (33-1) kept pounding the paint in the second half. Gabby Williams came off the bench and scored 15 points and Breanna Stewart added 17 points.
The Huskies shot 70.2 percent from the field for the game, coming up just short of the program record for a tournament game of 71 percent against Hampton in 2000.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored just two points (her lowest total of the season) but the Huskies didn’t need her scoring on Saturday.
“It means we have a versatile team and we don’t have to rely on one or two people to do it for us,” Tuck said. “Kaleena might not have had the best night but it means other people have to step up and play well.”
UConn outscored St. Francis 68-6 in the paint.
“We knew we were going to have the better matchup inside because they were really undersized in the post, so we just tried to take advantage of it,” Tuck said.
After not playing for a week and a half since the conference championship, Auriemma was pleased with how the team played after such a long layoff.
“When we shoot the ball like we shot it tonight it’s hard to play against us, obviously,” Auriemma said. “I’m happy for these guys, we haven’t played in a long time but I thought we played great.”