The No. 4 Huskies avenged their regular season loss to the second-seed Red Storm (22-9) by jumping out to an early lead and creating a number of turnovers that led to high percentage shots in transition for the struggling UConn offense.
"We really asked them to challenge them," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "To set a tempo and set a tone for the game in those first five minutes. And then be able to sustain it the entire game and they were great, they were absolutely fantastic."
The Huskies (28-4) advanced to Tuesday night's championship game against No. 3 Notre Dame. The Irish (30-2) handled West Virginia 73-45 in their Monday semifinal and are looking for their first Big East tournament championship. Notre Dame has won three straight against the Huskies, including two games during the regular season. In a period of two nights, UConn could avenge three of its four losses this season.
"It's great for our school, particular in the season we've been having," Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins said. "We're excited for the opportunity to compete for the Big East championship. How much it would mean for us, our program, and coach [Muffett] McGraw."
Freshman star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis vowed that the team St. John's beat a few weeks ago was not going to be the same team this time around. When asked about where that confidence came from, Mosqueda-Lewis had a simple answer.
"I just know who my team is," she said. "I know that they're strong and I know we're looking to head in a new direction. We're looking to be a more confident team and I know that coming out today we weren't going to let anything stop us today."
The Huskies shot 48.2 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the free throw line. They were also able to force 20 St. Johns turnovers and score 27 points off of those miscues.
UConn was led by Stefanie Dolson with a season-high 23 points to go along with six rebounds and two blocked shots. Mosqueda-Lewis came off the bench and contributed 22 points and the victory marked the 799th career coaching victory for Auriemma.
"I think we've just come out with the right mindset and executed on offense and played great defense," Dolson said. "We've come out with the mindset of being aggressive, confident with ourselves and our shots, and we've done a great job with it. Hopefully we'll keep it up."
The Huskies also did a great job of distributing the ball. As a team they had 16 assists and more importantly those assists were on point and helped make Dolson's day much easier in the low post. The Huskies outscored St. John's 32-20 in the paint.
"I give credit to my teammates who were able to pass me the ball today perfectly," Dolson said.
The Huskies will be making their eight consecutive appearance in the Big East championship game. It will also mark the sixth meeting between the Huskies and Notre Dame in the Big East championship final with UConn winning all five of the previous matchups.
The two teams faced each other twice in the regular season with Notre Dame winning both contests. The Huskies have struggled with turnovers and their offense in both those games, but perhaps the offensive explosion in tonight's game is what the Huskies needed to get back on track.
"It's been a while since we've had an opportunity to be the team that we think we are," Auriemma said. "We'll know more after [Tuesday] night. We're playing one of the top two teams in the country tomorrow night. I think the challenge ahead of us is much greater than last night or tonight."