Ducks run into unhappy UConn team. The results were predictable.
BRIDGEPORT: So, you want to play an unhappy UConn team the next time they take the court.
On Saturday afternoon, the Huskies moved on to the Elite Eight with a win over UCLA by an 86-71 final, but were never able to put the Bruins away in a style they have become accustomed to.
A disappointed number one team in the country is not one you want to claim “next” against, but that was just the task handed to the upstart Oregon Ducks who had played their game of the year in a 14-point win over Maryland (77-63) in the night cap on Saturday.
Not exactly the position anybody wants to be in at this or any time of the year but the Ducks were in that unenviable position coming into their Monday night match up with UConn, looking themselves for a spot in the Final Four this weekend.
A blistering seven-and-a-half-minute start by the top seed in the Bridgeport Regional Final that ran them out to a 28-7 lead was enough to make the Huskies smile and they will be smiling all the way to Dallas thanks to their 90-52 win over the Ducks.
With the win, UConn heads to the Longhorn state to take on Mississippi State on Friday in their 10th consecutive Final Four appearance.
How much did the Huskies use the end of the Saturday game to get them ready for this one with the goal of coming out fast?
“We always want to throw the first punch,” Gabby Williams said, “and it was kind of like we didn’t want to give them any hope. You know, we were lucky enough to come out to a good start, and I think we executed our game plan really well. The key was not letting them back in because that team knows how to fight, so we just had to stay tough.”
Napheesa Collier, who was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led all scorers with 28 points and 12 rebounds while Williams added 25 on 9 of 13 shooting.
UConn had a dozen steals in the first 20-minutes as the Ducks found out fast that those inside passes that may have worked on Saturday, were not going to make it to their destination on Monday.
It’s hard to fathom how far this team has come since that two-point win over Florida State in the first game of the season.
This was a team that head coach Geno Auriemma never seemed to have figured out for much of the season when they would do things that drove him absolutely crazy.
As the streak (does anybody even care anymore?) reaches 111, one thing is for certain.
A team that couldn’t convince the head coach for most of the year that they had this in them, has certainly done so now.
“I couldn’t be happier for this group,” Auriemma said. “They had a lot of questions marks going into the season, and maybe they didn’t have any in their own minds. Everybody else di, including me. But they seemed to have answered every single one of those questions, and they deserve to be in the Final Four. They’ve earned it. I’m proud of them and I’m happy for them.”
On a day that two of the Huskies (Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson) earned AP First Team All-American honors and Williams made Second Team, the story of this game may have seemed to have revolved around the 90 points but it was the defensive effort that made life so miserable for the Ducks.
Just ask their head coach.
“I think everybody talks about their offense,” head coach Kelly Graves said. “I’ve always said that what sets them apart from everybody else is their defense. They give you nothing and they’re a really good offensive team. I think we’re one of the more efficient teams in the country and we were playing on our heals all night long, and it was survival role at times.”
Looking at the stat sheet, you would see that the Ducks held one of the All-Americans, Samuelson to just eight points on 4 of 13 shooting (0-4 from three-point land) but the strength of this team is that you may stop one player but you can’t stop five.
Samuelson pitched in with five of the UConn dozen steals in the first half.
Passes that the Ducks might have thought would find their mark, instead found the fast reactions of one of Huskies starters, resulting in a turnover.
Graves talked about how it’s impossible to simulate the speed that UConn brings in practice.
“You watch them on film,” Graves said. “and you see, hey we can do this or do that. But I think the speed of the game. They just play so fast. But when you are trying to process that, it takes some time and it’s got to be more of a reaction instead of a thought process and we were thinking.”
Senior Saniya Chong continued her strong play in the tournament, scoring 11 points with back to back three’s in the first quarter that ignited a 17-0 run that essentially wrapped up a flight south for UConn.
Kia Nurse added 11 points and seven assists and the Huskies are two wins away from something not many saw coming at the start of this campaign.
In true UConn tradition though, these players have embraced what they now own, a 36-game winning streak that doesn’t involve players other than the ones who suited up this year.
Their head coach has to hand it to them.
“The players that we have today,” Auriemma said,” For the first time in their careers they’ve owned the whole month of March. They weren’t just along for the ride. It’s theirs and that’s a huge step. That’s what I told them that in the locker room. That’s a big step from riding in the back seat on a trip that you are going to, to all of a sudden, you’re in charge of driving the bus and you’re responsible for getting us there. A lot of times people have to lose to learn how to win and for them to just step in right where the other team left off and take immediate ownership of it says a lot about them. You know, I can’t say enough about each and every one of them but especially that starting five. I mean, there is just something unique about them and that’s going on and they deserve all of it. And they don’t have to share it with anyone else but theirs and they are enjoying it.”
For their reward, it’s off to Dallas to face off against a tough Mississippi State team that disposed of Baylor on Sunday in a 94-85 win behind a 41-point effort from Morgan Williams.