Sophomore forward Morgan Tuck sat out the game because her surgically repaired knee was bothering her, but it didn't much matter. Bria Hartley led all scorers with 19 points to lead the No. 1-ranked UConn women's basketball team over Temple, 80-36, before a raucus sell-out crowd of 9,274 at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport on Saturday. Moriah Jefferson added 13 for Connecticut, while Breanna Stewart scored 12 and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis chipped in with 11 for Connecticut, which improved to 17-0 on the season, 5-0 in the American Athletic Conference. Kiah Stokes hauled down a game-high 18 rebounds for the Huskies.
Erica Coville was the lone player in double-digits for Temple, which fell to 8-7 (2-3 in the AAC).
Temple managed to keep the game close—relatively speaking, that is—in the first half, trailing by 17, 39-22, at intermission. But the Huskies came out blazing in the second half, outscoring the Owls 28-5 in the first 10 minutes of the second stanza to take a 40 point lead, 67-27.
Game, set, match.
“We started out a little sluggish,” admitted Stewie, the embodiment of heart and soul in UConn women's basketball. But we came out and really put our foot on the gas in the second half.”
Part of the reason Temple was able to remain as close as it did in the first half was that UConn starting center and first-team All-America candidate Stefanie Dolson retired to the bench with 7:36 remaining until intermission after picking up her third foul.
That meant someone else had to step up.
Enter Bria Hartley.
“We’re not shooting the ball great from the perimeter right now,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma after the game. “It seems like we’re struggling to get any kind of flow or rhythm. I thought Bria was her usual, aggressive self, and that just goes back to what I was saying—that she was trying to make plays and trying to make things happen. And that’s when she’s really, really good. It’s second NCAA weekend, you have two games on Saturday and Monday [UConn left to catch a plane to Waco, Tex., where they will take on the 12-1 Baylor Bears on Monday], and you don’t want to wait until Monday to play well. You want to play well in both games. I was hoping we would play well down here [in Bridgeport] especially, and Bria really did.”
Geno was delighted with the electric atmosphere at the Webster Bank Arena.
“The atmosphere here is amazing,” he said. “The energy... It was definitely a 'big-game' atmosphere, even if this wasn't the biggest game on our schedule.”
That the game was played in Bridgeport at all was a matter of chance.
“When we were putting the schedule together, we say there was a conflict with this date at the XL Center,” said UConn athletic director Warde Manuel. The XL Center is hosting Disney on Ice this weekend. “It's nice that we are in the enviable position to have three venues [Gampel Pavilion, the XL Center and the Webster Bank Arena] to fall back on.
And when the season ends, the number of venues might be four. The first annual American Athletic Conference women's basketball championship will be held at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Asked if the Huskies will be playing any regular season games at the Mohegan Sun, which is home for the WNBA Connecticut Sun, Auriemma was non-committal... but left the door open.
“I'm not sure about that,” he said, “but I will say that the days of waiting around for [venues] to come to you are over. We need to be pro-active in bringing our product to all of the fans throughout the state.”
Indeed, this was the second time a home UConn basketball game had be played in Bridgeport in the past month. The Husky men's team cruised to a 17-point win over Eastern Washington at the Webster Bank Arena in December.