No. 2 UConn breaks away after halftime
There were plenty of instances when the Rutgers women's basketball team managed to send the Louis Brown Athletic Center crowd into a frenzy last night in Piscataway. But these flashes did not light up the scoreboard enough in the Scarlet Knights' favor.
No. 2 Connecticut blew the doors of the RAC open in the second half to cap a 63-44 conference win, leaving head coach C. Vivian Stringer and Co. with only a glimpse of their 2008 upset.
"I think we played hard," Stringer said. "I thought we were a little tired and that's unfortunate. But I have to give credit to them, they're [UConn] playing the same kind of minutes and they play hard."
Whatever head coach Geno Auriemma said to his team in the locker room at halftime, it worked to perfection come game time.
A Tiffany Hayes free throw with 4:16 left in regulation gave the Huskies (19-1, 8-0) a 26-point lead — their largest of the game.
Hayes led the team in scoring with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting after an explosion in the second half, as senior sensation Maya Moore ended the contest with 17 points.
"Even before the coaches came in at half time we just looked at each other and said the shots are going to fall," Moore said. "In the second half we didn't have to depend on offensive rebounds because the shots were falling. I think we were a little bit more aggressive, but the shots were falling."
UConn took advantage of a 17-2 run in the first six minutes following intermission — a scoring spurt anchored by freshman guard Gia Hartley and Moore. The pair combined for 12 of the team's points in the span, and without a mid-range jumper by junior April Sykes during the run, the damage could have been much worse.
Then again, if the Knights (12-7, 5-1) didn't have Sykes at all, a blowout would have turned into a scoring clinic by the Huskies.
"It has everything to do with my teammates," said Sykes, who led the Knights with 20 points, going 4-for-8 from 3-point land. "In practice, coach has been telling me to relax, because when I think about my shot I miss. I wasn't thinking, I was just playing ball again."
Something Stringer had to fall back on during the Knights' five-game winning streak was the team's post play and the leadership of junior guard Khadijah Rushdan.
But aside from 12 points from sophomore forward Monique Oliver last night, both were as ice-cold as the wintry conditions outside the RAC.
Rushdan registered just two points with a forgettable 0-for-11 shooting performance, while junior forward Chelsey Lee recorded just three points and three boards.
"I would have liked to help my team out, contribute a little more with the points but it's done and over with. I can't dwell on it," Rushdan said. "As far as dwelling on it, I can't really do that because then it's going to haunt me for the rest of the games and affect my play."
Before the night turned sour for the Knights, they found themselves in a tight game with their conference rivals.
But whatever success the squad found in the first half, the Huskies found that much more.
Still, one thing was evident — the playmakers came out to play
Sykes put the team on her back, going 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and cashing in on a breakaway layup for the games first points. For UConn, Moore went 4-for-9 and scored 10 points, but started the game off by missing her first three shots and the team shot only 29 percent in the period.
"You can't really get all wacked out about whether shots are going in or not," Auriemma said. "You can get upset about not getting good shots. In the second half when we came out we didn't try to force it in there to Maya."
But it was in the paint where the Knights struggled — something they have not done of late.
UConn outrebounded Rutgers, 14-10, in the first stanza, but more importantly gained a 6-1 advantage on the offensive glass. Couple that with eight Knights turnovers and the Huskies' relentlessness and the squad faced a three-point deficit at half.
And even though the team did make it more of a fight than last year's blowout, Rushdan is not satisfied.
"The game is two halves," the Wilmington, Del., native said. "It hurts because we had everything we needed, our coaching staff prepared us unbelievably well for this game. To come out in the second half and to get hit like that, it hurts."
For the Knights to improve in Big East play, they will have to wait until Saturday, when they travel to Louisville to continue a slew of conference matchups.
The Huskies now own six straight victories over Stringer's squad, and barring a meeting in the conference tournament at the end of the season, the Hall of Famer will have to wait another year to give the program an updated glimpse of a UConn victory.