UConn rides another hot start and routs Oregon 90-52 in Bridgeport final
Bridgeport — Sometimes, UConn's Gabby Williams was explaining late Monday night, it doesn't feel perfect.
The word is a tough one to live up to, perfection. The legacy. The expectations. The streak.
“The coaches put the pressure on us. We lose a lot in practice,” Williams said. “I think that's where that perfection idea comes from because we just have such high standards for ourselves. The coaches put so much on us so that when we get into the game, it's easier almost. It's fun.”
UConn's perfection reached a level that even coach Geno Auriemma was finding it hard to fathom Monday.
The top-seeded Huskies turned away No. 10 Oregon 90-52 in the NCAA women's basketball tournament's Bridgeport Regional championship before a sold-out crowd of 8,978 fans at Webster Bank Arena, thwarting the magical Ducks' bid for a fourth straight upset.
In so doing, UConn achieved its NCAA record 10th straight Final Four bid, earning the right to face Oklahoma City Regional champion Mississippi State on Friday in Dallas. It was the Huskies' 111th straight victory and the 113th NCAA tournament victory of Auriemma's career, eclipsing the record of 112 formerly held by Tennessee legend Pat Summitt.
But this was the team which graduated arguably the three best players in women's basketball, Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, after last season's fourth straight national championship. Right?
Sophomore Napheesa Collier led the way against Oregon with 28 points, 12 rebounds, four blocked shots, two assists and two steals and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Williams had 25 points and four steals and also earned all-tournament honors, as did senior Saniya Chong (11 points, four assists, three steals).
Kia Nurse added 11 points and seven assists and Katie Lou Samuelson had a team-high five steals, joining her sister Karlie, who plays for the Stanford women's team, in the Final Four.
UConn forced Oregon into 22 turnovers, 17 in the first half, when the Huskies (36-0) led 49-24 with the benefit of 28 points off turnovers. Collier and Williams thrived off making mid-range jump shots, with Oregon set on taking away the Huskies' catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts and layups, coach Kelly Graves said.
Nurse said that this group of UConn players is a part of the streak, but didn't build this idea of perfection on their own.
Nonsense, said Auriemma. This team, without an All-American at the season's start and now with the potential for three when the WBCA's 10-person team is released later in the week, doesn't have to share the credit with anyone.
“The players that we have today, for the first time in their careers, they've owned the whole month of March,” Auriemma said. “They weren't just along for the ride. It's theirs. … There's just something unique about them right now that's going on and they deserve all of it. It's not anyone else's but theirs.
“… They deserve to be in the Final Four. I'm proud of them.”
Sabrina Ionescu finished with 15 points and eight rebounds for Oregon (23-14), which eliminated No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Maryland in succession to get to the regional final for the first time in program history. Ruthy Hebard, a freshman, as is Ionescu, had 12 points.
Graves, the Oregon coach, said it was UConn's defense which set the Huskies apart.
“They give you nothing,” he said. “And we've been a really good offensive team.
“First chance I've ever had to play UConn and see up close exactly what they're about, how they play and I'm not going to make any headlines with this, but they're really, really good. I think just the shock of how good they are got us on our heels quickly.”
Nurse said she and Williams, both juniors, had to take over the leadership role this season for UConn, which last lost a game Nov. 17, 2014, at Stanford.
“I think it was a challenge we accepted and I'm extremely proud of how Gabby stepped up to the challenge and has done a great job all season being vocal,” Nurse said. “This is the thing that neither of us have had to do in our careers.”
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