Saturday’s Sweet 16 game was expected to be the Bridgeport Regional’s restaging of a winter battle between Eastern foes, only this time along the cusp of Long Island Sound on a warm, spring day.
“We were talking about how physical the game was going to be,” Geno Auriemma said.
And frankly, there were moments when push and shove led to hack and grimace, just like the last time UConn and Maryland played in Hartford in December.
But UConn’s 76-50 win over Maryland wasn’t really what some suspected it might be at the Webster Bank Arena.
It was tough, but nothing that would have assaulted the senses. This was more of a celebration of UConn’s youth. And UConn’s defense, which limited the Terps (26-8) to 19-of-61 from the field.
UConn’s kids, particularly its three freshmen, controlled the tempo and the temperament, running, defending and scoring. In essence, doing things athletes do at this level can do.
“I said before the game that Connecticut makes teams look bad and you saw that on display,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “They had firepower and open looks late in the shot clock. We struggled against their defense. They made it difficult.”
Apparently, the Huskies have rediscovered who they are and what they were born to do in the first three games of the tournament.
“Our freshmen were great today,” Auriemma said. “That was the story.”
Led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 17 points with seven rebounds, and Breanna Stewart, who added 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, the Huskies (32-4) easily took care of the Terrapins.
Alyssa Thomas led Maryland with 13 points. But unlike the last time they played, a 63-48 loss, the Terps lost the rebounding battle (41-36), were outscored in the paint (40-18) and outscored on the bench (25-0).
And now the Huskies are just one win away from a record sixth-straight Final Four, three wins from an eighth national championship.
The skate to eight continues Monday against a familiar Elite Eight foe – Kentucky. Last season, the Huskies beat them in Kingston R.I. to get to Denver. This year the goal is New Orleans.
“It’s the best game of the year,” Geno Auriemma said. “It’s just one game and everything that a player dreams of, going to the Final Four, in on the line.”
Freshman Moriah Jefferson (10 points) was also on top of her game, her defense and ball-handling providing many of the day’s happy gasps from the UConn fans. And Morgan Tuck added added eight points.
“If can continue to play like this it can do nothing but help us to increase our level of confidence,” Stewart said.
There was this one moment that put the physicality of the afternoon into perspective.