UConn establishes superiority in win
Rutgers women’s basketball and Connecticut fans alike gave a standing ovation as time expired in No. 3 UConn’s 65-45 victory Saturday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
The Scarlet Knights (14-10, 5-6) had something to be proud of in the 20-point loss. For part of it, they were aggressive, pushed the ball inside, made outside shots and rarely turned the ball over.
But eventually as the Huskies (24-1, 11-1) persisted on defending to create turnovers, it worked.
Forward Breanna Stewart converted a jumper with 7:22 to go in the first half. That gave UConn a 19-18 lead, which only increased.
The lead allowed the Huskies to play the aggressor as sophomore guards Syessence Davis and Shakena Richardson had to play the second half with fouls and turnovers more consequential with a deficit.
Davis tried to keep doing what allowed her to score eight first-half points, but Connecticut found a way to force her to shoot 0-for-5 in the final period and turn the ball over four times in the first half.
“It didn’t affect my game at all,” Davis said of playing through her turnover troubles. “[Head coach C. Vivian Stringer] always tells me even though we’re going to make mistakes, it’s all about playing through it.”
Davis committed her fourth foul with 15:21 to go in the second half. But Rutgers needed her in the game, evident by her 34 minutes of play despite the foul trouble.
Richardson committed her third and fourth fouls in the closing minutes on guard Moriah Jefferson, who scored 10 of UConn’s 31 bench points.
UConn’s size advantage spelled defensive disadvantages for Rutgers’ backcourt, which struggled to contain Jefferson and forward Morgan Tuck, who scored 15 points off the bench.
“Not any disrespect to midgets, but we call our little people midgets. They’re only 5-[foot]-2, 5-[foot]-3, 5-[foot]-4,” Stringer said. “Those girls are like 6-[foot]-3, 6-[foot]-4, and what happened was I was fearful of that.”
Richardson could not be her usual self on offense late in the second half as UConn held down the lanes to force her to pass instead of drive.
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma gave Tuck and Jefferson heavy minutes to change the tempo in his team’s favor, and it forced Rutgers out of its element.
“We proved it. You can go to a Final Four with only six players. You can probably go with just five if you’re lucky,” Auriemma said. “But if you can change up the game with a couple people coming off the bench like we were able to [Saturday], that’s what good teams do.”
Rutgers is not so fortunate with depth, as it struggled in the paint without senior forward Monique Oliver in the game.
Oliver played 28 minutes, a heavy load for her as she recovers from a bone bruise on her right ankle. With senior forward Chelsey Lee out with a knee injury, it was difficult for the Knights to win one-on-one matchups with center Stefanie Dolson. Stringer said Friday she did not know how long Lee would be out.
The 6-foot-5 Dolson scored 14 points off 5-for-8 shooting, but did not have her way early on.
Oliver was potent on offense early on, sinking a midrange jumper, getting to the free throw line and helping force Dolson into foul trouble. Dolson played some of the first half with three personals.
That was the beginning of a crisp Rutgers game, when it generated as much as a 14-6 lead, beginning with a 3-pointer from Davis.
Rutgers led, 10-4, with 15:34 remaining in the first half before Auriemma made four substitutions, including putting Tuck and Jefferson on the court.
“I thought that all we did right those first four minutes was foul,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think we accomplished anything else. We didn’t run offense, we didn’t play defense, we didn’t do anything.”
Then Connecticut forced six turnovers on an 18-5 run, giving it a 26-21 lead with 4:44 to go in the first half.
Rutgers was back to being who it was when it entered the RAC against UConn — a team struggling through youth, injuries and inferior talent.
“To be able to sustain [a high level of play] is going to be the key, and the value of the possessions are going to be key,” Stringer said. “The turnovers — we have to be able to do a better job [preventing them].”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JBakanTargum.