UConn women make quick work of Mississippi State, 98-38
Bridgeport — Members of the UConn women's basketball team knew exactly what was going on Friday night. There was a group chat circulating among the players as No. 1 seeds Notre Dame and South Carolina were being upset in the NCAA regional semifinals.
The top-ranked Huskies do not need any extra motivation at this time of the season. But in witnessing the elimination of two teams that were supposed to challenge them for the national championship, they were intent on making sure the trend did not continue against fifth-seeded Mississippi State.
Breanna Stewart had 22 points (8-for-10 from the floor), 14 rebounds, three assists and five steals in just 25 minutes Saturday to lead UConn to an impressive 98-38 win in the Bridgeport Region semifinals before a sellout crowd of 8,898 at Webster Bank Arena.
It was the largest margin of victory ever in the Sweet 16.
"I think that we just didn't want to send a message to Mississippi State, we wanted to show the whole country this is why we're the overall No. 1 and this is why people are saying we're as good as we are," UConn senior Morgan Tuck said. "And I think we were able to do that."
The Huskies (35-0), who have won 72 straight games, advanced to the Elite Eight for the 11th straight season and the 22nd overall. They will meet second-seeded Texas in the regional final Monday (7 p.m., ESPN).
Behind 18 points and 10 rebounds from Imani Boyette, the Longhorns defeated third-seeded UCLA 72-64 Saturday. UConn routed Texas 105-54 in the regional semifinals last season in Albany, N.Y.
"It's one of those days that you just feel it's special," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "This isn't the way that basketball normally goes. But every once in a while you catch that kind of wave, and the next thing you know it just crashes down on the other team and it just keeps going and going and going.''
Katie Lou Samuelson finished with 21 points, three rebounds and three assists for the Huskies. She joined Stewart and Maya Moore as the only UConn freshmen to score at least 20 points twice in an NCAA tournament game.
Tuck added 19 points (7-for-10 from the floor), six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Moriah Jefferson, who is now second in team history in assists (638) and steals (350), produced seven points, four assists and four steals.
UConn shot 62.7 percent from the field, while holding Mississippi State to 28.6 percent (0-for-14 3-pointers).
"(Saturday) it felt like I was playing a WNBA team," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. "I think we're pretty good and we looked awful. I just thought we'd play better. But we didn't and they had everything to do with it."
The Huskies completely wiped out any notion of an upset in the opening minutes by scoring the first 13 points of the game. They made five of their first eight shots, while Mississippi State missed its first seven.
UConn led 26-4 at the end of the first quarter, 40-8 with 7:50 left in the first half and 61-12 at halftime. The Huskies had runs of 13-0, 11-0 and 10-0 before scoring the final 13 points of the half.
The Bulldogs (28-8) suffered through scoreless droughts of 4:32, 3:40, 2:10 and 5:32. They missed 14 of their first 16 shots, shot 20.7 percent from the field and committed 12 turnovers in the half.
"When you're turning the ball over against that group it's a track meet," Schaefer said. "They're like piranhas on a roast. When they go in transition you can't get the bone out of the water fast enough."
Teaira McCowan led Mississippi State with 10 points and four rebounds. Leading scorer Victoria Vivians (17.4) was limited to a season-low six on 3-for-15 shooting from the field in 27 minutes.
The Bulldogs dropped to 0-11 all-time when facing the nation's top-ranked team.
"We've got some seniors that have played a lot of games, and they've played in a lot of big games," Auriemma said. "And when they show up and play the way they played (Saturday), it's hard for anybody to play against us. I'm probably as surprised as anybody about the final score. I'm really proud of them."
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