As the architect of one of the greatest programs in women’s college basketball history, a stellar sampling of Geno Auriemma’s latest work of perfection was on full display in the first half of UConn’s crushing defeat of third seeded Rutgers in the semifinals of the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Sunday afternoon. UConn opened the game hitting five of its first six shots, jumping out to a 13-0 lead, and steamrolled the Scarlet Knights, 83-57, before a partisan crowd of just over 7,300.
The hammer strike
The final score hardly reflected how good top-ranked and #1 seed UConn (33-0) actually was over the course of the first twenty minutes. In addition to the opening run, the Huskies had runs of 10-0 and 8-0 and rolled into the half sporting a 50-19 lead. UConn shot a blistering 69% (9-13) from beyond the arc, shooting 59% overall, from the field in the first half.
Said Auriemma, “I think the way we started the game was about exactly the way we want the games to start. We came out aggressive. We got out in transition and we moved the ball great. We got everybody involved. That entire first twenty minutes was the kind of basketball I could hope for, especially in the post season.”
Even the return of Rutgers leading scorer, sophomore Kahleah Copper, who had missed the March First match-up with the Huskies due to a turf toe injury, couldn’t stem the UConn tide. Copper (12 pts, 6 rbs) missed her first eight shot attempts finishing the first half with just two points on 1-10 shooting. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (19 pts, 5-9 3’s), working her way back into playing shape after missing time battling mononucleosis, drew the early assignment on Copper. UConn held the Knights to 28% shooting for the half.
UConn’s offensive juggernaut was not the only phase of the game the Scarlet Knights had to contend with. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer also highlighted the Huskies tenacity on the defensive end.
Said Stringer, “UConn is such a precise offensive team, but they’re given nowhere near the credit they deserve on the defensive side of it. Defense is not just the way you play, whether its zone or man, buts its placement, blocking out and doing all the fundamental things” Adding, “Geno (Auriemma) does a masterful job of encouraging these girls to be as intense on the offensive side as they are on the defensive side’”
All five UConn starters hit for double figures led by Breanna Stewart's 22 points.
Despite Rutgers (22-9) outscoring the Huskies by five in the second half, the final twenty minutes was academic.
Cards in the final
UConn will face two seed and third ranked (AP) Louisville (30-3) in the final of the AAC Championship in Uncasville tonight at 7 p.m. (ESPN). The Cardinals needed a Shoni Schimmel lane jumper with six seconds to go to break a 56 all tie and Louisville went on to a 60-56 win over third seeded USF in the second game of the afternoon.