UConn advances with record rout, beats Miss State
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Breanna Stewart and the UConn Huskies took notice of the major upsets Friday night. They needed just four minutes to put to rest any notion of that happening to them.
Stewart had 22 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to lead No. 1 UConn to a 98-38 record rout of fifth-seeded Mississippi State on Saturday.
“Crazy things happen in March,” Stewart said. “We wanted to make sure when we came out today that wasn’t going to happen with us.”
It hasn’t in quite some time.
The win was the 72nd straight for UConn (35-0) and left the Huskies three victories shy of an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship. Their road to that historic title got a bit easier Friday night when top seeds South Carolina and Notre Dame both lost in the Sweet 16.
“It was an awakening for our players and everyone else,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “If you show up in March and don’t bring your ‘A’ game and your guys aren’t focused and locked in and playing their best basketball, that this can happen.”
The best team in the nation put together one of its most dominant games during this run, quickly quashing any thoughts of the Bulldogs pulling off the upset with a dominant start.
The victory supplanted the record 51-point win the Huskies had over Texas in the regional semifinals last year that set the NCAA record for margin of victory in the regional rounds and beyond.
Even Auriemma was impressed with the effort.
“I told them during one timeout, and I never do this, I said, man you guys are really good,” Auriemma admitted. “I was just caught up in it all. The timeouts on Monday might be completely different.”
UConn will face the Longhorns in the Bridgeport Regional final Monday night.
Stewart, the two-time AP player of the year, got the game started with a 3-pointer and UConn was off and running. The Huskies scored the game’s first 13 points, including 11 by Stewart and Morgan Tuck.
A basket by Mississippi State (28-8) did little to turn the tide as UConn scored 19 of the final 21 points of the quarter, including Moriah Jefferson’s basket that just beat the buzzer.
UConn kept it going in the second quarter, converting turnovers and missed shots into easy baskets. The Huskies shredded the Mississippi State defense, which entered giving up just 54.7 points a game. UConn surpassed that with 1:40 left in the first half and led 61-12 at the break. The Huskies fell two points short of the NCAA record for points in a half in the regionals or later. The Bulldogs points were the second fewest for a half in an NCAA regional semifinal, one more than Texas Tech had against Rutgers in 1999.
Stewart finished the opening 20 minutes with 18 points and 13 rebounds and UConn shot 65 percent (24 for 37) from the field.
The onslaught continued in the second half as UConn extended its advantage to 68. Auriemma took out Stewart and Jefferson for good with 3:52 left in the third quarter to a loud ovation from the nearly 9,000 fans in attendance. Tuck, who finished with 21 points, left soon after.
“Today it felt like I was playing a WNBA team,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “That team right there probably finishes. I don’t know what team in the league they can’t compete with. They got all the pieces.”
By Doug Feinberg, AP Basketball Writer