Final Four streak ends for UConn women with loss to Ohio State
Seattle — The second quarter was too disastrous to overcome, such a mess that when UConn coach Geno Auriemma took a peek at the film at halftime, it was even worse than he remembered it.
“Even when I saw it, I couldn’t believe it,” Auriemma said. “I think that the emotions, and as one mistake led to another, you could almost see them.
“They’re like, you know, they’re like in a car wash and they don’t know how to get out of it. ... It wasn’t like, ‘I don’t know what to do because I don’t know what to do but (because) I’m in a state of I’m paralyzed.’ That’s basically what it looked like.”
No. 3 Ohio State pressed No. 2 UConn into submission Saturday afternoon at Climate Pledge Arena, forcing the Huskies into 25 turnovers, 18 in the first half, in a 73-61 victory in the Sweet 16 that ended UConn’s unprecedented streak of 14 straight Final Fours.
It also halted the Huskies’ streak of 16 consecutive Elite Eight appearances, the first time UConn bowed out of the tournament before the regional final since 2005, the year following Diana Taurasi’s graduation.
Ohio State freshman Cotie McMahon finished with 23 points, sending the Buckeyes (28-7) on to meet No. 1 Virginia Tech on Monday with the winner going to the Final Four. It is Ohio State’s first Elite Eight appearance since 1993.
Even having UConn great Sue Bird sitting courtside — Seattle was referred to, at times, as UConn West when Bird and fellow program great Breanna Stewart played for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm — didn’t help.
“I think we’ve got to obviously give a lot of credit to their press,” said tearful UConn graduate forward Dorka Juhasz, who along with fellow grad student Lou Lopez Senechal played her final game for the Huskies.
“I think we were just ... nobody wanted the ball. A lot of times I felt like, even though they were pressuring us, we kind of just shot ourselves in the foot with the turnovers, the bad decisions, the rushed shots that we made. We didn’t really play like ourselves or like our best selves.”
UConn, which spent the season riddled with injuries but seeming to be strong and confident at just the right time prior to Saturday, finished 31-6.
Lopez Senechal ended her UConn career by scoring 25 points. Azzi Fudd had 14 points and Juhasz had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Aaliyah Edwards spent her second straight game in foul trouble, scoring just four points in 17 minutes.
“We beat an excellent team, program, coaching staff,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “We have tremendous respect for Connecticut and all that they have accomplished forever. They certainly have had incredible success that no one will ever match again as a program.
“But they have a really good team this year. They just started getting healthy at the right time. So I think we beat one of the best teams in the country today.”
UConn led early, 10-2 and 17-9 on a 3-pointer by Lopez Senechal with 2 minutes, 36 seconds to play in the first quarter. The Huskies still led 17-15 at the end of the first, which is what made the start of the second quarter so unexpected.
The Huskies turned the ball over on eight straight possessions before even getting a shot off and only made three field goals in the quarter as they fell behind 36-26 at halftime.
First Juhasz lost a ball, then, against the press, the Huskies took more than 10 seconds with the ball in the backcourt, giving it back to the Buckeyes once again. Caroline Ducharme followed with a turnover and then there was a held ball with possession to the opponents.
Four turnovers became five became six became seven and eight, as Ohio State scored 11 straight points to start the quarter, nine from McMahon.
UConn didn’t score until the 5:27 mark of the quarter on a basket by Fudd.
Lopez Senechal scored to start the third quarter for the Huskies and they got to within five on a layup by Lopez Senechal to make it 44-39 with 3:53 to play in the third.
Ohio State, as it had the entire game, had an answer, however, a bank shot by Taylor Mikesell, and in addition to battling the Buckeyes, their press, their freshman and their own sagging confidence, UConn struggled to make a free throw, finishing 7-for-15 from the line.
Trailing by seven at 46-39, Juhasz missed two free throws. Jacy Sheldon made the Huskies pay with a 3, pushing the lead back to double digits.
UConn dominated previously in the postseason, sweeping through the Big East tournament and winning NCAA tournament games 95-52 over Vermont and 77-58 over Baylor.
Auriemma took the blame for the Huskies’ reaction against the Ohio State press, saying he should have prepared the team better for the moment.
“I think the first couple times we turned the ball over, I think it was like a punch that kind of put us back a little bit,” Auriemma said. “And it didn’t have to be but I think our reaction was so unlike what I’ve seen in the last month.
“It lingered the entire quarter no matter how many times we tried to stop it, no matter what we tried to do. Halftime couldn’t come fast enough.”
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