Huskies: A beautiful brilliance
ALBANY, N. Y. – There was brilliance here. Nothing new in UConn’s storied storybook. Heck, brilliant is a constant, decades long traveling companion with the Huskies. But, this one was special. There was an undeniable beauty ingrained in this 40-minute splash of brilliant at the Times Union Center on this Saturday afternoon.
The No. 1 seeded Huskies dismantled, dissected, dominated and devastated a solid Texas team, 105-54, to earn a 21st appearance in the `Great Eight’ Monday against Dayton who defeated Louisville, 82-66, with a Final Four spot going to the winner.
Even at this stage of the game, the margin of victory demands notice but not surprise. The Huskies (35-1) are what they are, the machine rolls on. But this was reminder of how good the best is. This was a testament to the unrelenting efficiency. And boy was it pretty to watch.
Well, okay, maybe not so much fun for the Longhorns (24-11). But even they know what hit them. A Huskie hammer with a lot of the swinging done by Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson.
UConn shot 39-of-70 from the field, 56 percent. After a pretty darn good first half that resulted in a 52-24 lead, the Huskies came in the second half and did themselves even better, leaving the Texas bench in a stony silence.
The Huskies hit 13 of their first 16 shots, four of them 3-pointers. By the time Jefferson converted a steal into a basket with 11:52 to go UConn led, 79-36. As for Stewart and Jefferson, Texas and Albany for that matter haven’t seen a show like this since the Cuomos were in office (No offense to the Albany Great Danes who had another great year).
Stewart scored an NCAA Tournament career high 31 points on 11-of-16 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and recorded seven assists in just 31 minutes. Jefferson on the other hand poured in 25 points with a gaudy 10-of-12 shooting effort while knocking down a trio of 3-pointers.
It was all good enough to leave the Huskies biggest critic at times, coach Geno Auriemma, shaking his head.
“When we shoot the ball the way we shot it when we’re in that kind of rhythm, that kind of zone, it’s hard to play against us, “ said Auriemma who picked up his 100th tournament win against just 17 defeats. “We got up a bunch of guys that are really good. We played really good in the first half and we came out in the second half and we played even better than we did in the first half, that’s hard to do. Those first five or six minutes in the second those were pretty good. I like that. That was about as good as it is going to get.”
And Stewart and Jefferson?
“It seemed like (Stewart and Jefferson) were on a whole different level than everyone else was playing,” asaid Auriemma. “ You come to expect that from Breanna this time of year but Moriah has come so far in the last two years.”
March seems to be Stewart’s Christmas. After missing three of her first four shots, she was lights out including one 15-footer that left the defense flat-footed when she reversed dribbled and nestled one in off the backboard.
“She’s just another one of those guys that I’ve had that is just a big-game player over the years. The bigger the game the better they play, said Auriemma. “She’s just unique and a special kid. You could practice your whole life and think you are going be like Stewie and its just not going to happen. The mechanism inside of her allows her to do that. She’s not effected by pressure. She doesn’t let the moment get to here. She knows what the moment is and embraces the moment.”
“Breanna shot the ball really, really well today, from every spot on the floor,” said Texas coach Karen Aston. “She is a matchup nightmare and we don’’t have a matchup for her.”
Texas hung close early and trailed just 17-12 with 13:22 go in the first half. The Longhorns size was an early factor with 6-foot-7 Ima McGee-Stafford until Kiah Stokes was inserted and then the sound heard around the facilty was the hammer coming down.
Stokes and Stewart had back-to-back blocks in one sequence which led to a 7-2 surge capped off by a Jefferson 3-pointer for a 24-14 lead. Call the Longhorns concussed.
Stewart heated up scoring 14 points the rest of the half, including 10 in a row at one point as the lead zoomed to 52-24 by the half. By then Stewart had 20 points, Jefferson 13 and the Regional final was ready and waiting.
Aston credited the UConn defense, which recorded 10 blocks and helped create 18 turnovers, as much as the offense for the complications.
“Connecticut makes things look open and then you got down there and get stuck. They do a good job of influencing the ball toward their big people,” said Aston. They are very hard to score on. Unless a team is capable of scoring points consecutively they are going to have a hard time beating them because they are going to score.”
A brilliant display with beauty attached. Lethal beauty if you wear the other colors.