Connecticut defense stifles Duquesne in Tournament second round

Connecticut's Morgan Tuck and Duquesne's Amadea Szamosi grapple for the rebound. Photo by Robert Franklin.
Connecticut’s Morgan Tuck and Duquesne’s Amadea Szamosi grapple for the rebound. Photo by Robert Franklin.

Storrs, Conn. – There were no surprises in the NCAA Tournament second round Monday, as No #1 seed Connecticut dominated Duquesne, 97-51.

Breanna Stewart led the Huskies with 21 points, while Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck each added 20 points. Deva’Nyar Workman headed up three Dukes in double figures, with 17 points.

Connecticut used stifling defense to control Duquesne. Perhaps the most significant stanza of stops in the game was a 15-second stint when three-time All-American Stewart blocked three shots.

“The biggest thing we stress in our game plan is just the way we pressure them defensively,” Stewart said. “We were able to get a lot of transition baskets and they were tentative on offense in the second half.”

The scrappy Dukes took it right at the UConn defense making the defending NCAA champions look human at first. Duquesne’s April Robinson torched the Huskies in the first quarter, scoring 9 points and two three-pointers back-to-back to keep Duquesne close to end the first quarter, 20-14.

The Dukes looked confident and poised for the first three minutes of the second quarter, closing the gap with a three-pointer by forward Amadea Szamosi, who scored from the left elbow of the court to narrow the lead.

UConn then took the momentum early in the second quarter when Stewart blocked the three shots on a single possession, forcing one of two consecutive shot-clock violations for the Dukes.

”It was a huge momentum shift for our team,” Stewart said. ”Everyone was excited, the fans got involved, but also they had a shot-clock violation so that was a little defeating for them.”

Connecticut's Kia Nurse drives to the basket. Photo by: Robert L. Franklin
Connecticut’s Kia Nurse drives to the basket. Photo by: Robert L. Franklin

With those blocks, Stewart became the first player in Division I women’s history with at least 400 blocked shots (402) and 400 assists (410).

The Connecticut team finally woke up and went on a 7-0 run to push the lead to 29-17. Duquesne turned the ball over nine times in the first half, and Connecticut built a 42-21 lead in a blink of an eye. The Dukes had no answer to the Huskies’ post game, and gave up 18 points in the paint.

“Their length was a problem for us,” Duquesne senior guard April Harris said. “I just can’t lie about it. Yes, they are a great team. We had a great game plan for them but couldn’t execute it in the second half, they switch and trapped us and made us play faster then we are accustom to. But I enjoyed the ride as long as it lasted.”

The Huskies had 13 steals in the third quarter, led by Jefferson’s swiping three of them. The Huskies aggressive style defense had the Dukes off balance in the second half.

The Dukes never got closer than 21 points in the second half, but they never stopped working. Stewart, however, was unstoppable on both ends of the court, finishing with game-highs of 16 rebounds and five blocked shots. Her putback of a Tuck miss in the third quarter drew a standing salute from her Coach Geno Auriemma and a shake of the head in amazement from Workman.

The Huskies’ 97 points scored were most that Duquesne has allowed all season long.

”Today was just a magnificent performance by the three of them,” Auriemma said. ”It was really something to see, just the way they feed off each other, the way they instill confidence in their teammates.”

Workman scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half and April Robinson added 16 points for the Dukes, playing in their first NCAA Tournament.

”I’m actually glad we went out to the number-one team in the country than to anybody else,” said Workman. ”This is the best way to go out, for me.”

The Dukes, who were 9 of 30 from 3-point range in the game, have four players with 30 or more three-pointers this season. Seniors Robinson, Workman and Emilie Gronas finish their careers with 95 wins – the most in program history.

“I’m incredibly proud of my team, our seniors,” Dukes coach Dan Burt said. “We started this journey with nine players who had never put on a Duquesne jersey. The standard had been raised to an incredible level.

“Everyone has a plan against Connecticut until they get punched in the face. ”That second quarter, we got punched in the face. But, instead of losing what the plan was, I think we still battled.”

Morgan Tuck looks to make the pass. Photo by Robert Franklin.
Morgan Tuck looks to make the pass. Photo by Robert Franklin.

Connecticut extended their winning streak to 71 games, making it the second-longest in team and Division I women’s history. The Huskies own the top three streaks on that list and surpassed the 70-game streak they set between November 2001 and November 2003.

The victory was Auriemma’s 105th in an NCAA tournament. He needs seven more to catch former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who has the most with 112. Connecticut are now 38-2 in NCAA Tournament games at Gampel Pavilion and 51-4 in games played in Connecticut. The regional semifinals and finals will be played in Bridgeport, where UConn is 9-1.

Connecticut will play fifth-seed Mississippi State on Saturday at the Bridgeport regional semifinals.