UConn women roll in tourney opener

Storrs - If you looked hard enough, you could have found the betting line on this game. UConn was a mere 57-point favorite, which suggests that perhaps Prairie View is the next candidate to join the American Athletic Conference.

But at least the Panthers can say this much: They covered.

Otherwise, there was little doubt on the prairie for the UConn women, whose pursuit of a ninth national championship began with an 87-44 win over 16th-seeded Prairie View before 5,018 fans Sunday night at Gampel Pavilion. The attendance was exactly 2,541 people fewer than the high school championships drew earlier Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

UConn (35-0) meets No. 9 St. Joseph's Tuesday at 7 for a trip to the Sweet 16. The Hawks defeated Georgia, 67-57, in Sunday's other first-round game.

"At this time of year, you just want to get the first one out of the way," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You know you aren't going to play your best game of the year because you haven't played in two weeks. We did a lot of great things. But we need to be better Tuesday and we will be for sure."

All five UConn starters had at least 10 points, including Breanna Stewart (19), Bria Hartley (16), Moriah Jefferson (14), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (13) and Stefanie Dolson.

"You can tell we're playing well when we're all in double figures," Dolson said.

The only suspense for the Huskies, who played their first game in 13 days: Would they record the first shutout in the history of the NCAA Tournament? They held Prairie View (14-18) scoreless for the first 5:33 of the game, finally allowing their first basket with a 15-0 lead.

Prairie View's next basket came 6:03 later. The Panthers missed 20 of their first 21 shots.

Now the Huskies face upstart St. Joe's, which earned a significant win for its program over Georgia.

"It's terrific. Not only is it great for Saint Joseph's University and our program, but it's also great for the Atlantic 10 Conference," coach Cindy Griffin said. "It's a stepping stone, and though we were very excited about winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament last year, this team wanted to take it a step further this year in getting to the tournament and winning a game. It's huge."

Huge, however, is a relative term. It's doubtful the word has been invented that would describe what a victory would mean Tuesday night.

"I'm excited about it. As a student-athlete you want to play the best, but as a coach you want to coach against the best, and Geno is one of the best if not the best," Griffin said. "I think it's an opportunity for us to showcase Saint Joseph's University, not only our team but also the university as a whole. We're always the underdog and we like that role and we've been successful in that role, so we're excited about it."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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