Huskies Make Case for Defense

HARTFORD, Conn. – The last time Connecticut won a women's basketball game while scoring fewer than 50 points was March 7, 2004 when the Huskies defeated Virginia Tech 48-34.

Sunday night at the XL Center, the Huskies experienced another offensive power outage, but won their Big East quarterfinal contest with a 49-34 victory over Rutgers. In the process, UConn snapped its two-game home losing streak, its longest since 1993.

UConn (27-4) won despite shooting 32.7 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from the free throw line. And UConn won despite 17 turnovers, 33 missed field goal attempts, only 10 offensive rebounds and only seven second-chance points.

It was ugly. But the Huskies survived and advanced.

"Right now we're not very good offensively," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "There's no flow to our offense. People are kind of wondering where their next pass is going, where their next shot is coming from. . . . It's just a real struggle right now. There's a lot of indecision on our team right now. That's probably what accounted for such a low scoring game."

Freshman forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led the Huskies with 17 points but only two came in a second half won by UConn 19-16 (UConn's lowest point total for a half in Big East tournament play). Center Stefanie Dolson finished with 10 points and led all rebounders with eight.

"I think we played an amazing game of defense," Dolson said. "We communicated a lot on defense. We helped each other with screens. We did a great job of helping each other and making sure the lanes were clogged."

Now the Huskies reach an interesting point in the season. First they will get a rematch with No. 2 seed St. John's in the semifinals Monday (8 p.m., ESPNU). The Red Storm (22-8), which snapped UConn's 99-game home winning streak on Feb. 18 at Gampel Pavilion, defeated Louisville 68-61 in overtime Sunday.

Briana Brown led St. John's with 24 points and Nadirah McKenith added 15. The Red Storm was outrebounded 52-38 but held Louisville to five points in overtime for the victory.

"Once we beat Connecticut, I think the rest of the country really knew who we were," St. John's coach Kim Barnes-Arico said. "I'm happy they are starting to be recognized. I keep talking to them and saying just because we're being recognized doesn't allow you to become soft. All these people out here are trying to make us soft, so we've got to continue to work hard."

St. John's advanced to the semifinals of the Big East tournament for the first time since 1988.

"St. John's had a chance to lose the game today and they showed a little bit of that confidence they have and are playing with right now," Auriemma said. "They just have this look about them. It's kind of bugging me because they think they're really good. I liked it better when they weren't sure whether they could win or not."

No. 1 seed Notre Dame will meet West Virginia in the other semifinal. The Irish, who wrapped up the regular season championship by beating UConn one week ago at the XL Center, defeated DePaul 69-54. No. 5 seed West Virginia advanced with a brutal 39-32 victory over Georgetown. The two teams combined to make just 23 of 120 shots from the field (19.2 percent).

The Mountaineers and Irish will tip at 6 p.m. (ESPNU).

The Huskies opened up a 30-18 halftime lead on the strength of 7-for-15 shooting from three-point range. UConn came out with a hankering for perimeter shots. Caroline Doty hit the first two three-pointers, giving UConn a 6-2 lead just three minutes into the game.

Then Mosqueda-Lewis took over. She led UConn with 15 first-half points – and all came on three-pointers. The Big East Freshman of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year was 5-for-6 from three-point range and 5-for-7 overall in 16 minutes off the bench.

"I just tried to help the team," she said. "We were in a little bit of a slump, but every other player on the team was setting screens for me. And when I got open, I just tried to shoot it and knock it in."

UConn was just 2-for-10 inside the arc before halftime. The Huskies also went 5-for-10 from the free throw line. The Huskies took their biggest lead at 30-13, thanks to an 11-2 run keyed by two three-pointers by Mosqueda-Lewis.

But Rutgers scored the last five points of the first half, to close the gap to 12, The Scarlet Knights picked up 11 of their first half points off UConn's 10 turnovers. The two teams combined for 22 turnovers in the first half alone and finished a total of 35.

Erica Wheeler led Rutgers (21-9) with 13 points. Khadijah Rushdan was held to 10.

Auriemma said every game with Rutgers fits the same pattern.

"It's difficult to get shots and difficult to get the offense flowing in a sustainable way," he said. "Compound that by the number of open shots we missed – it was a lot.

"Our defense had to win it for us. For 40 minutes we guarded them the way we wanted to. I tip my hat to our team. It takes a lot of effort to concentrate that hard on defense. It was a pretty gutty performance by our guys."


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