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UConn Focused, Dominant In Win Over RMU In NCAA Opener By Rich Elliott

POSTED March 19, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

STORRS – There are so many distractions facing the UConn women’s basketball team as the NCAA tournament gets underway. It would be easy for the Huskies to lose their focus, especially during the early rounds against overmatched opponents, and let their minds wander ahead to the Final Four next month in Indianapolis.

Forget about winning an 11th national championship for a moment. UConn is attempting to become the first team in the history of Division I women’s college basketball to win four straight national championships. Yet, as the talk of history swirls around them, the Huskies remain focused and unified on the task at hand – winning and advancing.

Top-ranked UConn left little doubt how steely focused it is at the most important time of the season Saturday by leveling 16th-seeded Robert Morris with a blistering first quarter performance en route to a 101-49 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament before 4,784 at Gampel Pavilion.

``There’s obviously a lot going on, especially when the NCAA tournament starts we have an even bigger spotlight on our team just because we’re UConn, what we’re hoping to do, trying to do,” UConn senior Breanna Stewart said. ``And I think that the best way we block it out is once we step on the court we know that this is our time. Get back into the mental state of mind of what we’re trying to do as a team and not worry about anything else.’’

Freshman Katie Lou Samuelson had 22 points (7-for-10 FG; 3-for-4 3-pointers), five rebounds and two steals to lead UConn. She scored more points in her NCAA tournament debut than any other freshman in team history. Jamelle Elliott (Louisville March 18, 1993) and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Prairie View A&M March 17, 2012) had previously scored 21 in their debuts.

Stewart added 18 points (5-for-7 FG), five rebounds, four assists, a career-high eight steals and three blocks. She also became UConn’s career leader with 398 blocks.

UConn, who led 41-4 at the end of the first quarter, will face ninth-seeded Duquesne (28-5) in the second round Monday (TBA). Behind 25 points, 12 rebounds and five assists from senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman, the Dukes defeated eighth-seeded Seton Hall 97-76 in Saturday’s second game.

``Those first 10 minutes that’s about as good a way as you can to start a game, start a tournament,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``And not having played in 12 days you don’t know what you’re going to get when you come out. But this team’s pretty locked in. They’re pretty focused on what we’re trying to do, what the task ahead of us is and we talked a lot about, `Don’t look ahead. It’ll be here.’ And we did capture some of that that first 10 minutes (Saturday) and if we bring it to Monday we’ll be alright.’’

A layup by Megan Smith cut UConn’s lead to 3-2 with 9:18 left in the first quarter. The Huskies (33-0) then scored the next 22 points and 43 of the next 45 overall.

UConn shot 63.6 percent from the field in the opening quarter. Defensively, it had had eight steals and scored 21 points off of 13 turnovers by Robert Morris.

``We just wanted to come out and show that no one plays harder than us,’’ Stewart said. ``And I think that we did that defensively, especially the steals, getting in the passing lanes. It made them a lot more hesitant the rest of the game.

``I don’t think we’ve could’ve written that start any better, 41-4 in the first quarter that’s huge. It was a lot of fun out there. We all felt really well whether we’re on offense, defense, being the receiver or the passer or scoring points. It was exciting and when you’re able to do that with your teammates it’s hard to stop.’’

UConn held the Colonials scoreless for stretches of 5:08 and 5:23 in opening a 46-4 lead. Samuelson had 15 points in this span. Stewart had 10. Morgan Tuck had nine. Moriah Jefferson had seven.

The Huskies, who made 16 of their first 24 shots from the field, did not commit a turnover over the first 11:25. They led 64-15 at halftime.

``They just go to a whole different speed,’’ Robert Morris senior Ashley Ravelli said. ``I just can’t lie about it. When you’re out there … And, yes, we practiced. We had a great scouting team. They tried to play the way they were playing when we were at practice. But they just go to a whole different speed so we had to adjust.’’

The Huskies have won 70 straight games to match the second longest winning streak in Division I women’s basketball history. They also won 70 straight Nov. 9, 2001 through March 11, 2003 before setting the record by winning 90 straight Nov. 16, 2008 through Dec. 30, 2010.

Kia Nurse finished with 14 points (5-for-7 FG), six assists and four steals for UConn. Jefferson produced 14 points (6-for-9), five assists and two steals. Freshman Napheesa Collier delivered 14 points and nine rebounds off the bench, while Tuck had 13 points and eight rebounds.

The Huskies have won 23 straight NCAA first-round games, including the last nine by an average of 49.0. They have also won 35 straight NCAA tournament games at Gampel Pavilion.

``It’s going to be really hard this year,’’ Jefferson said. ``This is probably going to be one of the hardest years it is to win because we’re going for history. We’re trying to do something that’s never been done and everybody knows that. Everybody’s seen it on the TV. So I’m sure every single person wants to knock us off even more than in the years past.’’

UConn tied the team NCAA tournament record with 21 steals. It also had 21 against Oklahoma in the regional semifinals in Richmond, Va. March 25, 2000.

Anna Niki Stamolamprou led Robert Morris (20-13) with 11 points.

This marked the final game for Colonials’ coach Sal Buscaglia, who is retiring after 38 years (711-369). He also coached at Hilbert College, Buffalo and Manhattan.

``UConn’s a great team,’’ Buscaglia said. ``They beat our butts.’’

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