The no. 1 seed UConn Huskies advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinals for the 22nd straight season after defeating no. 8 seed Rutgers 91-55 in Storrs.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma wanted his team to take the time to reflect on such a rare accomplishment, as the closest active streak is eight seasons (Stanford).
“Sometimes you take it for granted and don’t realize that if it was easy a lot more people would have done it,” Auriemma said. “It’s not easy. I want them to know that it is not just because we are Connecticut, we have to earn it every year. This team, like every other team that has been there, has earned it.”
UConn junior guard Moriah Jefferson put together a dazzling performance. She scored 17 points, a career high in the NCAA Tournament, to go along with five assists and four rebounds.
UConn senior guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led all scorers with 23 points, also a career high in the NCAA Tournament.
Morgan Tuck quietly put together another stellar all-around game for UConn. The redshirt sophomore forward had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Both teams were impacted by foul trouble early in the game. In the first four minutes of the game Rutgers’ Kahleah Copper, Briyona Canty and UConn’s Breanna Stewart each picked up two fouls.
UConn held on to a 13-8 lead when Stewart headed to the bench for the remainder of the half at the first media timeout.
Without Stewart, the UConn offense did not miss a beat. After the timeout Moriah Jefferson hit two 3-pointers to give the Huskies some breathing room with a 19-8 lead.
“I told the players in the locker room that what we did in the game today was pretty impressive when you consider how the game was played [without Stewart for most of the first half],” Auriemma said. “I was just really proud of the way we handled ourselves.”
UConn’s hot shooting forced Rutgers to call a timeout trailing 21-10 as UConn started the game 7 for 10 from the field. Fueled by four points from Copper Rutgers answered with a 6-0 run of their own and UConn called a timeout of their own to regroup.
Out of the timeout the Huskies responded with a 10-2 run of their own to open up a 32-18 lead. After gaining a double-digit lead again UConn did not look back. UConn’s ability to break open a game quickly is what makes them so dangerous compared to other teams.
“It happens a lot quicker,” said Rutgers senior forward Betnijah Laney. “They are a team that gets up and down the floor. It makes it that much more difficult when they are moving at great speeds and hitting threes.”
Kaleena-Mosqueda Lewis scored 11 points to end the half including three 3-point field goals to give the Huskies a 51-31 lead heading into the break. Mosqueda-Lewis led all scorers at the break with 16 points in addition to four assists.
“Coach kept trying to emphasize that we kept moving and looking for open spots in their zone,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “Making sure that I was doing a lot of other things was key for us to getting the win.”
Morgan Tuck and Jefferson also reached double figures for UConn with 12 and 10 points respectively in the first half.
Rutgers struggled as a team to shoot the ball in the first half as they shot 35 percent from the field. Tyler Scaife led all scorers for Rutgers at the break with 10 points.
UConn picked up right where they left off in the second half. A three pointer and a steal leading to a layup by Jefferson capped off an 11-2 run by UConn.
Trailing 62-33, Rutgers called a timeout to try to get some momentum back on their side but it was just not their night. UConn cruised to victory as Rutgers once again struggled offensively in the second half.
Rutgers shot 34 percent from the field as a team in the game.
As UConn heads to Albany for a semifinal matchup with Texas, Mosqueda-Lewis was happy with the way she and fellow senior Kiah Stokes ended their careers at Gampel Pavilion.
“It feels really good to end it on a high note,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “With everybody playing so well tonight, it is simply how you want your last game in Gampel in front of your home crowd to be. It looked like everybody was connected out there.”