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UConn pulls away from St. John's women in second half

St. John's Aliyyah Handford (3) passes away from

St. John's Aliyyah Handford (3) passes away from Connecticut's Breanna Stewart (30) during the first half of an NCAA game, Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP / Jason DeCrow

St. John's women's basketball coach Joe Tartamella had to choose. Among No. 2 Connecticut's star-studded lineup, upon whom did he want to focus his team's defensive energy Sunday in the ninth annual Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden?

"I mean, do you want to pick your poison?" Tartamella said.

He settled on trying to shut down Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the Huskies' second-leading scorer and top three-point shooter.

The task of guarding Mosqueda-Lewis was assigned to Danaejah Grant, a 5-9 junior guard who is St. John's leading scorer. And Grant did the job, limiting Mosqueda-Lewis to six points and 3-for-9 shooting, including 0-for-3 from three-point range.

Unfortunately for the Red Storm, UConn simply had too many other weapons that could not be contained.

Morgan Tuck scored 23 points, Breanna Stewart added 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots and Moriah Jefferson had 16 points and six assists for the Huskies, who took control of the game early in the second half and cruised to a 70-54 victory.

"Obviously, as great a shooter as [Mosqueda-Lewis] is, as good a player as she's become, you've almost got to expect that they're going to play something similar to that," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And if we're going to have a good team, then the other players need to do exactly what they did today. No question."

St. John's (12-2) hung in gamely with the Huskies (12-1) for most of the first half and trailed 38-31 at the break. Mosqueda-Lewis, who was shooting 50.7 percent from three-point range this season, had two points, and Grant had 13 to lead St. John's.

But Tuck scored 11 points as UConn opened the second half with a 13-2 run to take control of the game, and that was that. Grant, who shot 6-for-12 in the first half, took only three shots in the second half and did not score.

"Our first half, we kind of were really stagnant," Stewart said. "And we wanted to come out in the second half and make sure we really cleaned things up and kind of stepped on the gas toward St. John's and played different than we played the first half."

Aliyyah Handford had 20 points and eight rebounds for St. John's. Tartamella said he was proud of the effort his team gave and added that the game against the Red Storm's former conference rival will help down the road.

"It's always fun to play against Connecticut -- a great opportunity to play against the No. 2 team in the country," he said. "We did our best to try and make them score in different ways that maybe they hadn't [before], but it's very hard at times."

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