UConn 64, Syracuse 51
It wasn't a thing of beauty. But in the end it's not style points that determines a victor. It's still the team that can put the ball in the basket just enough times that gets the win. So it was for #2 seed and third ranked (AP) UConn (29-3) in their 64-51 Big East Conference tournament semifinal victory over #3 seed Syracuse (24-7) at the XL Center in Hartford Monday evening before a decidedly partisan crowd of just over 7,600.
UConn played a solid first half, building a 39-24 lead going into the break and getting balanced scoring with four players recording seven or more points. More importantly the Huskies did a nice job of containing Orange senior center Kayla Alexander. Alexander, coming off a career high 34 point performance the night before in the quarterfinals win over Villanova, was held to just four points before the half, as Syracuse routinely settled for long jumpers. Alexander came in needing thirteen points to reach the 2,000 point plateau ending the night with fourteen to go along with six rebounds.
UConn Coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with the first half effort, “We did a really, really lot of good things in the first half. We got a lot of contributions from a lot of various people. We got ourselves in some pretty good situations, playing pretty well defensively. Offensively we were a little bit inside-outside. Great combination of stuff.”
The flip side
The second half was a different story. Despite coming out and pushing the lead out to nineteen just over five minutes in the UConn's offense was ragged, at one time turning the ball over on three straight possessions during that five minute stretch, with one errant pass ending up in coach Auriemma's hands.
Said Auriemma, "It was a crazy game."
The ragged play allowed Syracuse to hang around and try to make a game of it getting the lead down to nine twice around the ten minute mark before UConn settled down pushing the lead back to double figures.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart led the team with fourteen apiece in the win.
The win sets up the rematch most everyone was hoping for as UConn punched their ticket to the finals and date with conference rival #1 seed and second ranked (AP) Notre Dame Tuesday night. The implications are enormous both in a competitive and in an historical context. As of next season the Irish are scheduled to join the ACC, while UConn will call the tentatively named America 12 Conference their new home for the 2013-2014 season. The two teams have dominated conference play in recent years and will be squaring off to claim the last Big East Conference tournament title either school will be playing for.
On trying to break this season’s two game skid to the Irish Auriemma said, “I’m gonna coach the same way I coached the last two times we played them. So how I think and what I feel, it doesn’t matter. I think what’s most important is how our players play (Tuesday). How we play the whole game. How we defend. How we run our stuff. How we put ourselves in a position to win the game. We’ve done that. We just haven’t been able to (win).”
History in the making
Notre Dame and UConn has become one of the biggest, if not the biggest rivalry, in women’s basketball. UConn has dropped six of the last ten meetings with the Irish. Notre Dame has won three straight meetings dating back to last season’s national semifinal. UConn is playing Notre Dame in the championship game for the third straight year having won the previous two. UConn will be playing for its’ sixth straight Big East Tournament title overall.
Notre Dame 83, Louisville 59
The Notre Dame-Louisville semifinal match-up was destined to be a blowout before it became a dogfight before it officially became a blowout again. The Fighting Irish (30-1) opened the game with a 12-0 run only to have the Cardinals battle back to tie the game at sixteen midway through the first. Following the tie Notre Dame rode a 16-10 wave taking a 32-26 lead into the half.
It looked like the Irish would have to scratch and claw for the second night in a row after holding off a feisty South Florida team the night before. Instead the Irish opened the second half by outscoring the Cardinals 13-2 just over five minutes in. The lead increased to 27 with just over eleven to play and the #1 seed and second ranked (AP) Irish coasted to a surprisingly easy 83-59 win over #4 seeded Louisville (24-8) in Hartford Monday evening.
Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw was relieved her Irish put away the Cardinals early in the second half saying, “South Florida is such a good team and they really match up well with us, so it was good to play a team we matched up well with and get the starters some rest because they played a lot of minutes (Sunday).”