BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Until Monday night, Kentucky had been the voracious defensive omnivore in the women's NCAA Tournament, sharpening its teeth with piranha-like attacks on opponents. Then Kentucky was thrown into the deep end with the Princesses of Hoop, UConn, and was eaten alive, 83-53.
Seven-time national champion UConn (33-4) advanced to its sixth straight Final Four against the winner of Tuesday night's Notre Dame-Duke game. And based on Monday night, UConn appears capable of winning the whole pot again, with a royal flush of sticky-fingered defense, seeing-eye passing and dead-eye shooting.
UConn took away the underpinning of Kentucky's game by shredding its defense with neon offensive skills, shooting 52 percent, and punctuated that dominance by hoisting Kentucky on its own petard with 11 steals, 10 blocked shots and unsettling harassment that kept Kentucky's shooting accuracy to 31 percent.
Kentucky (30-6) scrapped on virtually even terms for the first 11 minutes and was ahead 23-22 before a 26-3 run gave UConn a 48-26 halftime lead. During that stretch, Kentucky's only field goal was a three-pointer by Jelleah Sidney that appeared accidental. She banked it in.
UConn was like some brilliant jazz quartet, its players taking turns with applause-inducing solos, including North Babylon junior Bria Hartley's early flourish: a steal-and-layup, precise assist to freshman Breanna Stewart and driving layup. Hartley had 10 points, three steals, two assists and four rebounds.
"I thought Bria Hartley did an amazing job at the defensive end," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who assigned Hartley to stick with Kentucky shooting guard Jennifer O'Neill in a box-and-one defense after O'Neill scored Kentucky's first five points. (O'Neill, mostly taken out of the picture, finished with 13.)
"I didn't want us to chase around. Bria was the perfect choice, because Bria doesn't understand anything about defense," Auriemma said with some sarcasm. "So when we told her, 'You just guard that kid and follow her everywhere she goes,' Bria said, 'Yeah, I can do that.' She was fabulous tonight. Unbelievable job."
Grand performances came from throughout the UConn roster, and the rout was on. Stewart scored a game-high 21 points and UConn's lead reached 36 points, 77-41, in the final seven minutes.
"They hit us," Mathies said, "and we didn't respond. We were a little timid, not as aggressive as we wanted to be."
Chewed to pieces.
California 65, Georgia 62: Layshia Clarendon scored 25 points to lead Cal to an overtime victory in the Spokane Regional and a berth in the Final Four. Cal will face the winner of tonight's Louisville-Tennessee game.