Defense sparks Huskies past Quinnipiac, 71-46
Storrs — Compared to Saturday's first-round NCAA tournament game for UConn, which yielded a 140-point performance by the Huskies, this one was a defensive standoff.
Top-seeded UConn led just 19-9 after one quarter and the Huskies lead was a grand total of eight following a 3-point field goal by Quinnipiac's Paula Strautmane with 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“Well, obviously that was a little different than Saturday,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think everybody on our team knew that (it would be).”
Before a deafening crowd of 8,957 Monday at Gampel Pavilion, many there to send off UConn seniors Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse in their final home performance, many others trying to will No. 9 Quinnipiac to the upset, UConn held off its Connecticut neighbor by a final margin of 71-46.
That advanced UConn (34-0) to its 25th straight regional. The Huskies will meet No. 5 Duke at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Times Union Center in Albany after Duke dispatched No. 4 Georgia 66-40 Monday.
UConn won its first-round NCAA game Saturday over No. 16 Saint Francis (Pa.) 140-52, generating NCAA tournament single-game records for points in quarter (55), half (94) and game. The Huskies scored 96 points in the paint.
Quinnipiac, however, which reached the Sweet 16 a year ago in Stockton, Calif., meeting up with eventual champion South Carolina, set out at a much calmer pace, with coach Tricia Fabbri revamping her team's offensive sets in a day and a half following Saturday's victory over No. 8 Miami and also crowding UConn on defense.
“Heck of an effort. Heck of a team. So proud,” said Fabbri, whose team finished the season 28-6 and turned the ball over just seven times to 13 for UConn, not allowing the Huskies to turn the game into a mad dash as it was Saturday.
“There was going to be a limited number of points scored today. That's the way the game was going to be played,” Auriemma said. “Each possession for us was important, especially in that second quarter. This team has a knack of making shots when we have to, making a play when we have to.”
In the end, Auriemma pointed to the players on the podium with him, Nurse and junior Napheesa Collier.
“They were just too much for them at the right time,” Auriemma said.
Collier, the 6-foot-1 forward, did the most damage, with 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. She and 6-6 forward Azurá Stevens dominated inside against a Quinnipiac starting line which featured no one bigger than 6-0.
Stevens had 14 points and blocked three shots, two on the same possession in the second quarter as UConn grabbed a 33-18 lead going into the half.
Nurse added 13 points, including three 3-pointers, Katie Lou Samuelson had eight rebounds and Williams and Crystal Dangerfield each had five assists.
Quinnipiac took 56 shots to 44 for UConn, but UConn was an efficient 7-for-9 in the third quarter (77.8 percent) to slowly move away.
Samuelson spun to deliver a jump shot from the top of the key, Nurse hit a 3-pointer, prompting a Quinnipiac timeout, and Stevens was perfect on two free throw attempts to push the lead past 20 for the first time at 48-27 with 2:27 in the third.
“I mean, it's a huge luxury for us,” Nurse said of having Collier's presence and also her versatility. “She catches anything you throw at her, whether it be a good pass or a bad pass and she does a great job of finishing. I also think she does a great job of coming out and stepping out at the 3-point line and making plays from there.”
“It was good for us to have one of each this weekend,” Collier said of the contrast in styles between the first- and second-round games.
The UConn win broke a program-best 23-game winning streak for Quinnipiac, which was led by 12 points from redshirt junior Jen Fay.
Fabbri, who coached her daughter Carly, a senior guard, for the final time and shared a warm embrace with her as Carly exited the game late, said she'll remember the game, foremost, as a loss. She then reeled off a lengthy list of pros to the night, however.
“To have this moment and to have a packed house and an electric atmosphere,” Fabbri said. “The bands, the atmosphere. To have that opportunity when it is more rare than common … in a big game … and to handle ourselves so well and compete with the dynasty on their home floor, this was the pro to being sent here to Connecticut.”
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