Huskies continue their roll

Kiah Stokes of UConn, top, ties up Kahleah Copper of Rutgers in the second half of the AAC women's basketball tournament semifinal Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Mohegan - Geno Auriemma doesn't find himself getting caught up in the name of the tournament. His teams won 18 Big East Conference tournament titles before reaching their first championship game in the American Athletic Conference, to be played today at Mohegan Sun Arena.

What's one difference between the two leagues?

"I had never been to SMU (in Dallas), never been to Central Florida (Orlando), never been to Houston, never been to Memphis. It was good to go to those places for me," said Auriemma, coach of the top-seeded UConn women's basketball team. "And I almost never had to bring an overcoat (because of the warmer weather)."

UConn reached the inaugural AAC final with an 83-57 rout of Rutgers on Sunday, a game which marked the final league matchup against the Huskies for Rutgers and coach C. Vivian Stringer before heading next season for the Big Ten.

All five starters scored in double figures for top-ranked and unbeaten UConn (33-0), including 22 points and seven rebounds from Breanna Stewart and 19 points, including five 3-pointers, for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

The Huskies won their 39th straight game, leading 13-0 in the first three minutes and 50-19 at halftime. Up 30-9 with 9 minutes, 15 seconds to play in the first half, Stewart came from behind to block a breakaway layup attempt by Rutgers' Betnijah Laney, bringing the crowd of 7,635 to its feet.

UConn will face second-seeded Louisville in the championship game at 7 tonight (ESPN), playing in a conference final for the 24th time overall and 10th straight. Louisville defeated No. 3 South Florida in the other semifinal 60-56.

"When we're playing like that it's fun," said Bria Hartley, who finished with 12 points and a team-high nine assists for UConn. "We all had a great time out there and we all enjoyed it, so I think we want to keep playing like that the rest of the way.

"I thought the way we started the game was about exactly like you want the games to start," Auriemma said.

Stefanie Dolson added 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks for UConn and Moriah Jefferson had 10 points, seven assists and three steals.

Auriemma addressed the blocked shot by Stewart, named the AAC Player of the Year earlier this weekend, one of the game's highlights because of the effort it took even though the Huskies held a virtually insurmountable lead at the time.

"The last player I saw do that was Maya (Moore, former UConn All-American) against Texas down at Bridgeport (in the NCAA tournament)," Auriemma said. " You think, 'There's no way' anyone can do that. But when you think about it, they both have the ability to make phenomenal plays.

"You just go, 'Yeah. That makes sense.' (Stewart) wants to be good all the time."

It was the fifth straight game in which Stewart scored 20 points or more.

Rutgers, 22-9 and now awaiting news of a possible NCAA tournament berth, missed its first six shots.

Stringer, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, as is Auriemma, lauded UConn for its defense, limiting Rutgers to 28.1 percent shooting in the first half, and also for being "in the eye of the storm" and still being able to maintain its composure.

"They're given nowhere near the credit they deserve on the defensive side of it," Stringer said. " It's easy, especially when a team is scoring at the clip they are, to be slow and sloppy and lazy on the defensive side of it. It's not as obvious until you see the kinds of things the way we were forced to score."

Briyona Canty led Rutgers with 16 points. UConn made 13 3-pointers, while Rutgers did not attempt a long-range shot.

"If you can't hit 3-point shots, why would you take them?" Stringer said.

Next year, the AAC will change again, as Rutgers and Louisville leave for new conferences.

"From us coaches, there's not much we can change," Auriemma said. "Losing Rutgers and Louisville, that changes the look of the league tremendously. It'll be interesting to see the other teams and how they react to it. Hopefully, there's a bunch of teams in the American right now that can't wait for their opportunity to make the NCAAs."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Stefanie Dolson of UConn (31) looks to shoot as Rachel Hollivay of Rutgers (1) defends in the second half of Sunday's game
Stefanie Dolson of UConn (31) looks to shoot as Rachel Hollivay of Rutgers (1) defends in the second half of Sunday's game
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