Young UConn squad dominates Maryland to advance to Elite Eight
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- We have seen this movie before. Connecticut has arrived safely on the shores of women's basketball's NCAA Elite Eight. And judging by the performance of three freshmen and a sophomore in Saturday's 76-50 pounding of Maryland in the Bridgeport Regional, we are likely to see the same kind of show again.
Seven times a national champion, UConn (32-4) just keeps reloading. For those who haven't kept up this season -- and even those who have -- Saturday offered what opponents must consider a frightening look at the development of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
Jefferson, a spindly 5-7 freshman from Glen Heights, Texas, shot 5-for-8 for 10 points, handed out three assists and had two steals. Her hiccup-quick moves had Maryland (26-8) dealing with a form of vertigo.
"She was the X factor," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma called Jefferson "the difference in the game."
Then there was Stewart, a 6-4 freshman from Syracuse, and Mosqueda-Lewis, a 6-foot sophomore from Anaheim, Calif., sharing game-high scoring honors with 17 each. Stewart had eight rebounds and Mosqueda-Lewis seven. Mosqueda-Lewis had three assists and Stewart added four blocks and a steal.
The third freshman, the 6-2 Tuck of Bolingbrook, Ill., shot 4-for-5 for eight points.
"Our freshmen were just great," Auriemma said. "Those three were 16-for-28, with only one turnover among them. That was kind of the story of the game."
Not that they weren't surrounded by the usual UConn talent and depth -- UConn's bench outscored Maryland's 25-0 -- all of them playing an up-tempo, attacking style.
Stewart, Jefferson and 6-5 junior Stefanie Dolson were in the middle of the first UConn surge that turned a 10-8 deficit into a 21-13 lead.
The next burst -- with North Babylon junior Bria Hartley, senior Kelly Faris and Mosqueda-Lewis providing the offense -- took UConn from a 23-20 lead up to 35-26 at the half.
And the real UConn hammer came down at the start of the second half -- nine straight points from Stewart, Mosqueda-Lewis and Jefferson, who had a couple of slashing scores.
"The freshmen stepped up when we needed them," said Mosqueda-Lewis, who, like Dolson, temporarily was forced to the bench, hobbling, after two of the game's frequent scraps for the ball. "Moriah handled the ball incredibly the whole game, she drove the basket, made sure everybody was in the right place in the offense. Breanna? She scored, which is what her job is. And Morgan, when she got the ball inside, she made sure she got it in the basket.
"As long as they keep playing like that and they're consistent, our team's going to be successful."
UConn's dominance built as the game wore on, its 58 percent field-goal shooting in the second half one byproduct of the team's 10 steals and 14 assists. It is becoming an inside-the-box routine that Auriemma's players all appear capable of the right move at the right time. And they all seem to get better as they go.
Jefferson, for instance, "has been more assertive, but at the same time, she's been more under control," Auriemma said. "The problem you have, when you are as quick as Moriah, is that you don't necessarily always know which gear to be in, when. Especially when you're a freshman. When to attack and when to pull back. She has figured that out.
"She made plays today that we always knew she could make."
For any team that is not UConn, these sequels are not encouraging.