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What's good for women's basketball? Another UConn win but this time by less than 60.

POSTED March 28, 2016
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

BRIDGEPORT-The best thing that can happen to women’s basketball, aside from the University of Connecticut and their continued dominance, is when one of their opponents shows up and plays well.

It’s the same game. One basket on each end, the same size ball is used by both teams, etc.

On Monday night in the Elite Eight matchup between the Huskies and the Texas Longhorns, the Longhorns made it a unique world for a time, playing the game at the same pace, energy and skill that the ten-time national champions do every night.

But like in so many other instances, the Huskies simply had too many weapons for Texas to overcome and are advancing to their ninth straight Final Four next weekend in Indianapolis thanks to an 86-65 win.

Texas did what only a hand full of teams have done during this 36-0 campaign (73 in a row), they pushed UConn, forcing the Huskies to count on their big three, Breanna Stewart (21 pts, 13 reb), Morgan Tuck (game high 22 pts) and Moriah Jefferson (11 points, nine assists) to carry them through the tough stretches when the Longhorns countered the potential knockout punch several times.

The dynamic duo scored 29 of the teams 40 second half points, 16 of the last 20 in the final frame.

Over the last 48-hours, the talk of the land (on Boston talk radio, mostly) centered on remarks by Boston Globe Dan Shaughnessy that seemed to demean what the Huskies have meant to women’s basketball.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma seemed surprised that the hoopla was so loud on talk radio but took it all in stride.

He has often said that it’s not up to him to come back to the pack, it’s up to the rest of the country and other Division I schools to catch up.

Was Texas pushing the Huskies really good for the game overall? Yes and no, according to the coach.

“Yeah, I mean when they were pushing it and they were really attacking us, I think we got up 17-6,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know, maybe we got up eight or nine early and then they came right back and knocked in some shots. One kid made a three in transition and it was like her fifth one of the year. That’s what happens at this time of the year. People make shots they don’t make the rest of the year. You have to expect the unexpected.”

On the flip side of if he thought it was good for the game overall?

“So during their run,” Auriemma said, “Yeah, during their run, I remember sitting down and going, you know this is really great for women’s basketball. Now those guy can shut the hell up. I was thinking that. Not really, not really. I’m thinking, you know what’s good for Connecticut basketball? We need to go on a 12-0 run.”

Auriemma is still highly motivated by any critic of his program which has been built on hard work and dedication to every last detail.

It’s why the negative talk got the coach a bit worked up.

“That’s one of the things that does keep me going, though,” Auriemma said, “All those people who call into talk shows? You know the sad part about it? I guarantee you, none of them has been half as successful at what they do as Stewie’s been. Because the guys that are very good, the guys that are great, they don’t have time to call stupid radio stations. They’re busy being great. You should see when our guys are around the NBA players, how much those guys appreciate what these kids do. Because they understand how hard it is to be great. So maybe that’s what keeps us going too.”

NOTES: The Huskies shot 56.4 percent from the floor for the game, an astounding 60.7 percent in taking a 46-31 lead into the break while holding the Longhorns to a 37.5 mark.

UConn was 7 of 12 in the opening half from long range, making the team from the Lone Star State pick their poison in the second half. Guard the Huskies out by the three point line and open up the inside or stick with their game plan and hope the Huskies cooled off.

Texas was led in the first half by Ariel Atkins who got hot for 10 points in the first quarter but was shut down in the second, scoring just two. Atkins would finish the night with 19, as would Lashann Higgs.

UConn shut down 6’7” senior center Imani Boyette, holding the Longhorns best inside threat to just four points and six rebounds.

The Huskies came out hot, as they usually do to start the third quarter, on a 6-0 run off three pointers from Katie Lou Samuelson and Jefferson to extend the lead to 21 at 52-31, a potential back breaking segment for the Longhorns but they responded with a 12-0 run of their own to stay in the game at 54-42.

Withstanding the runs that UConn invariably puts up was one key for Texas coming in and they kept themselves from being blown out at that point.

True to form though, the Huskies big three, Tuck, Jefferson and Stewart put the team on their collective backs, scoring 10 of the team’s final dozen in the third to extend the lead to 66-47 at the start of the final frame.

16 of the teams 20 points in the final frame were scored by the big three.

The Longhorns did push, as Auriemma expected they would and his team responded.

Adversity? Bring it on. Foul trouble? Okay. Tuck, Williams and Jefferson each picked up two fouls over the first twenty minutes, meaning somebody off the bench was going to have to find their way into the spotlight.

On Monday night, freshman Naphessa Collier was that player in the first half. Collier scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds in just seven minutes of action and pushed the pace with her teammates in foul trouble.

The Huskies shot an astounding 60.7 percent from the floor in taking a 46-31 lead into the break while holding the Longhorns to a 37.5 mark.

Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson earned AP-All American First Team status on Monday.

The duo has led the Huskies to the doorstep of their fourth consecutive National Championship which they can secure with two more wins in Indianapolis this coming weekend and Tuesday night.

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