Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Dishin on the Elite Eight: UConn trumps Kentucky, punches ticket to the Final Four for fifth straight season

Published on March 27, 2012

By

Bria Hartley. Photo: Roger Beaupre.

Last night Stanford punched their ticket to a fifth straight Final Four and Tuesday night opened with the Connecticut Huskies looking to do the same in a virtual home game in Kingston, Rhode Island against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Huskies beat the Wildcats 80-65.

The chatter before the game centered excessively on former Husky and current Wildcat post Samarie Walker. She faced questions regarding her decision to leave Storrs, and not on the fact that Kentucky had shot the lights out on Sunday against Gonzaga with a confidence and swagger not previously faced in the tournament by Connecticut.

Kentucky however, exhibited nerves that go with a first time Elite Eight appearance. The more big-game experienced Huskies jumped on them early, with two Stefanie Dolson jumpers, a Caroline Doty three, and a Kelly Faris layup for a 9-0 lead before Kentucky broke through with a Bria Goss three-pointer got Kentucky on the board.

UConn’s patience in running their offense, trying to get Dolson or Faris high post touches to distribute continued to be successful early, leading to layups, fouls and short jumpers. Kentucky counteracted this with intense pressure and continuing their hot three point shooting from Sunday, exchanging three for two to cut into the lead.

Keyla Snowden may want to consider transferring to the University of Rhode Island, because the way she has been shooting in their arena, she could be a first team All-American. Snowden hit five of nine from behind the arc on Sunday, and quickly hit two of four shots including one three in her first four minutes of play. Kentucky whittled the lead to five at the eleven minute media timeout.

With Kentucky settled in, it was Connecticut star freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis that seemed nervous, missing three of her first four shots, and committing a foul that gave Kentucky another possession. When Walker drew a foul from Dolson and hit the shots, it was a 21-19 game.

The speed of Kentucky kept UConn’s defense, normally a staple and focal point of their success, from getting established and having an impact. Their aggressive style of crashing the boards on offense gave them multiple possessions and put backs.

However they had no answer for Dolson, and in particular the two-man game between Dolson and Faris. At the eight minute media timeout, Dolson had already racked up eight points on perfect shooting and four assists, and Faris had four points, also without missing, and two assists.

UConn led, but Bria Hartley, Faris and Dolson had two fouls apiece. As the Huskies continued to rack up fouls, the Wildcats were not missing from the line and a Goss layup gave Kentucky the lead 31-30 with 5:30 to go in the half. The Huskies were reeling, and trying to survive the half without any more foul trouble and staying close.

Senior Tiffany Hayes, named third team AP All-American earlier in the day, took control for Connecticut, making plays on both ends of the court, finishing the half with eleven points. Perhaps the biggest play, however, was a pass she made with 2.1 seconds to go, when she threw a baseball pass to a streaking Faris, for a layup at the buzzer and a 41-39 halftime lead.

It took twelve seconds into the second half for Kentucky to draw the third foul on Faris, as the aggressiveness of Kentucky continued. While Connecticut was scoring through execution of their offense, Kentucky was scoring by attacking the basket with drives or put backs as the Huskies failed to box out.

With the Huskies leading 52-47 the referees, already a little whistle happy in the first half, began calling every touch as a foul, putting Kelly Faris on the bench with her fourth foul. The game disintegrated into no rhythm or pattern, as whistle after whistle prevented any kind of flow from happening.

Connecticut began to win the war of missed shots and made foul shots, opening up a 56-49 lead at the 11:56 media time out. Kentucky had committed eighteen personal fouls at that point, and Connecticut had committed fourteen of their own.

Whatever Geno Auriemma said to his Huskies at that timeout about the lack of aggressiveness on the boards, it worked. Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes, best friends and roommates, made big plays in the land of the posts, coming away with lose balls. Hayes and Dolson continued to score for the Huskies, Hayes mostly from the line, and two Hartley free throws with nine minutes to go gave the Huskies a twelve point lead.

Southeastern Conference player of the year A’dia Mathies continued to struggle for Kentucky, and her teammates became passive. The previous success on the boards became one and done run outs by the Huskies. Meanwhile the offense of the Huskies continued to execute cuts and movement off the high post offense with surgical precision. When Mosqueda-Lewis hit her first three pointer of the game, the Huskies had their biggest lead of the game, seventeen.

Matthew Mitchell’s frustration with his team’s second half performance and the officiating boiled over at the 4:38 mark when he was assessed a technical after a non-call on the Wildcats’ end. Mosqueda-Lewis’ two foul shots opened the lead to 73-54. While the outcome did not seem in doubt, it seemed only fitting that Faris fouled out on a horrible call only 30 seconds later.

Credit must be given to Hayes, who had justifiably earned a reputation for not playing well in big games. Playing on a stress fracture in her foot, she was stellar in every area of the game, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and three steals.

One thing Auriemma teams always seem to do is execute. They run their offense with precision and play defense with passion. Even though they struggled in the first half with their rebounding, they turned it up in the second half, holding Kentucky to 26 second half points after allowing 39 in the first half. The Huskies made 23 baskets, and had an assist on a remarkable 21 of them.

Mitchell and Kentucky had suffered through highs and lows all season, and they ended up having both in this one game. Their aggressiveness was impressive to watch in the first half, but the recurring whistles seemed to take some of that away in the second half. The Wildcats ended hitting only 6 of 21 three-point attempts, and were outrebounded 37 to 21.

Tiffany Hayes will conclude her college career, like Nnemkadi Ogwumike, with a fourth straight Final Four appearance.


 

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