One for the record books as UConn beats Saint Francis 140-52
Storrs — It was record-breaking. It resulted in head-shaking.
Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh admitted to taking a chance with his strategic planning in Saturday morning's first-round NCAA women's basketball tournament game against 11-time national champion UConn. Katie Lou Samuelson, a UConn All-American, admitted to running up and down the court with such frequency she was winded as early as the first quarter.
The final score: No. 1 UConn 140, No. 16 Saint Francis (Pa.) 52, with the Huskies setting NCAA tournament records for points scored in a quarter (55), half (94) and game.
Saint Francis attempted 57 3-point field goals, forcing the tempo of the game against a team which thrives on that pace.
“I do have to say I don't think I've ever been involved in anything quite like that,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who was doing most of the head-scratching later in the day. “That was quite different. I thought we just took advantage of all the things that were available to us the entire game. We are really good at passing up some real easy shots for a great shot. We did that and just kept doing it. …
“You keep saying to yourself, 'This can't last.' Then you realize it's gonna be like this the whole game.”
Azurá Stevens had 26 points and 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes, her first NCAA tournament game for UConn after transferring from Duke, leading six players in double figures, as the Huskies (33-0) advanced to the second round at 6:30 p.m. Monday to meet No. 9 Quinnipiac.
Napheesa Collier had 25 points, nine assists and four steals, freshman Megan Walker 19 points and eight rebounds, Samuelson 18 points and 10 assists, Gabby Williams 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Kia Nurse 15 points and 10 rebounds.
UConn eclipsed the NCAA tournament record for points in a game, 121, set by Alabama in the 1995 second round, a 121-120 victory over Duke in quadruple overtime.
“It's hard to play defense because they're the best players in the world,” Haigh said of UConn.
“They scored a lot of points, but we competed. Everyone knows there's a difference between the best team in America and the teams at the smaller levels. But we didn't play scared. We did the best we could.”
Haigh's theory Saturday: “Shoot a million 3s and hope they go in.”
He also tried something drastic defensively, leaving UConn's post players unguarded and trying to stop the Huskies from 3-point range. In the wake of Friday night's men's tournmament upset by No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County over No. 1 Virginia, Haigh rolled the dice that could happen again a day later.
It didn't go well, with UConn leading 55-19 after one quarter and 94-31 at halftime. But Haigh didn't see it that way.
“The way we play is unconventional, obviously, but that's how we play. The margin of loss doesn't matter as much as how you play,” Haigh said. “… Whatever the last 220 or 300 or 500 teams that have played against (UConn) before, that (strategy) hasn't worked too good. It didn't make too much sense to try and do something that hasn't worked for any other team in America.”
Saint Francis (24-10), won its 12th Northeast Conference tournament title to advance to the NCAA tournament. The Red Flash made 1,095 3-point attempts coming into the game (compared to 659 for UConn), led by junor Jess Kovatch, who led the nation in both 3-point attempts and makes, going 141-for-365.
On Saturday, Saint Francis was 10-for-57 from 3, setting the NCAA tournament record for most 3-point field goals attempted — the previous mark was 52. Haley Thomas made four and finished with 12 points. Kovatch, 0-for-7 from long range, finished with nine points.
UConn set a single-game NCAA record for assists with 38.
The Huskies eclipsed the 100-point mark on a layup by Collier assisted by Williams with 8 minutes, 9 seconds still remaining in the third quarter.
Saint Francis went 0-for-15 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter, 2-for-22 overall.
“I hope it doesn't reflect on our players,” Haigh said. “It can reflect more on a crazy coach trying something different.”
“I was thinking it was halftime, but that was a really long and a really good first quarter,” UConn sophomore Crystal Dangerfield said. “I think we came out with a lot of energy and I think that translated over into the first quarter.”
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