BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — 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,” coach 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 of 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 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 off 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,” Auriemma said. “It’s just one game and everything that a player dreams of, going to the Final Four, 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 UConn fans. And Morgan Tuck 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.
Georgia 61, Stanford 59
Jasmine James led the way with 16 points as the fourth-seeded Georgia Lady Bulldogs used a second-half surge to take down the top-seeded Stanford Cardinal in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament at Spokane Arena.
Jasmine Hassell and Tiaria Griffin both netted 13 points for Georgia (28-6), which will advance to the Elite Eight to take on either LSU or California. Shacobia Barbee and Anne Marie Armstrong were both crucial in the rebounding battle with 12 and 10 boards, respectively.
For Stanford (33-3), Chiney Ogwumike shined with 26 points and 12 points, while Amber Orrange added 17 points and eight boards.
Stanford took control of the game in the first half, outshooting Georgia from the field, 46.9 percent to 30.3 percent, as it carried a 34-27 lead into intermission.
The Cardinal led by eight, 42-34, midway through the second half, but the Lady Bulldogs surged ahead with a 10-0 run over the course of less than two minutes. The teams went on the seesaw down the stretch, and with the game tied at 56-56 with just over a minute remaining, Hassell drained the game-winning jumper to lift Georgia to the upset victory. The squad shot 3-of-4 from the foul line in the final 23 seconds to seal the deal.
Georgia’s free-throw percentage wasn’t great (.550), but it still outscored Stanford at the line, 11-4.
Kentucky 69, Delaware 62
Kastine Evans had no idea that Delaware had just cut Kentucky’s once-cushy 16-point lead to a mere two points.
She had no clue. So she didn’t hesitate.
She didn’t blink as she let go of the ball.
“I didn’t have a chance to really think about the shot; I just shot,” Evans said of the three-point basket that helped the Cats beat Delaware, 69-62, on Saturday and advance to the Elite Eight for the second straight season and third time in four years.
It’s a good thing Evans didn’t blink. The junior guard from nearby Salem, Conn., might have missed the most important three-point shot of her career, one that helped UK get enough distance, 65-60 with 2:21 to play, to hold off the charging Blue Hens.
“That really broke our back from the standpoint of giving them enough cushion at the end of the game,” Delaware Coach Tina Martin said. “Give credit to her. She hit the big shot when they needed it.”
california 73, LSU 63
No information available at press time.
Connecticut on Monday night at Webster Bank Arena with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
But it was Evans who had the biggest shot.
“She’s unbelievable in those moments,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I was not for one second surprised. I was elated and very happy. We needed a bucket, just mentally and emotionally needed a bucket bad.”
Delaware had scored eight straight points leading up to the shot, capped off by an Elena Delle Donne 15-footer that she willed into the basket to cut the Cats’ lead to two points, 62-60, with 2:47 to go.
The Blue Hens, who had trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half, had come all the way back from the brink and were poised to possibly pull ahead on their next possession.
“Kentucky was quicker and stronger, but there was so much fight in us,” Martin said of her team, which had won 27 straight games coming into Saturday. “We clawed our way back into it.”