Defensive pressure too much for Stringer’s Scarlet Knights as UConn rolls over Rutgers

When most of the 9,882 people that were at Gampel Pavilion for the Rutgers versus Connecticut game bought their tickets, they expected to see their Huskies tested by a top ten ranked-Rutgers team. Instead, with injury sidelining point guard and team engine Khadijah Rushdan, and reeling from losses in three of their last five games, they saw a Rutgers team in transition lose, 66-34.

For the second consecutive game, Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer sat April Sykes and Erica Wheeler, electing to start with Christa Evans and Syessence Davis in their place. With Rushdan missing, that meant Rutgers started the game with only Monique Oliver of their top four scorers in the game.

The game was tied at six, when Tiffany Hayes hit a jump shot on an assist from Bria Hartley, stole the ball and hit a three-pointer on an assist from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and then hit an old fashioned three point play on a layup and foul by Sykes. The 8-0 Hayes run was followed by three consecutive three pointers by Mosqueda-Lewis, and the lead was 23-6 in the blink of an eye. The Huskies never looked back, and, after a brief Rutgers run cut the scorer to 25-15, UConn closed the half on a 12-4 run and a 37-19 lead.

As with most games versus Rutgers, the game was physical, and points were hard to come by for both teams at times. The difference, both coaches confirmed, was the defense played by the Huskies.

“I don’t think you can have anywhere near the success that we’ve had without being able to play the kind of defense we play,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. “I think it goes hand-in-hand. You have to be a good defensive team every year and we might not get the credit that some other team’s get, because we don’t talk about it or have any fancy names for our defense.”

“A lot of people don’t give them credit for their defense,” added Stringer. “We’re not the best shooting team, though, so I don’t know if we are the team that you should be measuring it by.”

The stats give credence to her thoughts, as the threesome of Evans, Daivs and Briyona Canty, that replaced Rushdan, Sykes and Wheeler in the starting lineup were 0-7 shooting, and committed four turnovers. For the game, Rutgers only had three assists. Oliver was the lone offensive bright spot, as the undersized post’s hard work resulted in fifteen points and eight rebounds.

The Huskies, on the other hand, were efficient on the offensive end. They were not able to get out and run, and only had two fast break points. However, they had 19 assists on 24 field goals. The center combination was lethal, as Stefanie Dolson (16 points) and Kiah Stokes (10 points) shot 11-16 from the floor, and 4-5 from the line. Tiffany Hayes continued her hot play, scoring 14 points and adding five rebounds and seven assists.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis appeared to break out of her shooting slump early, hitting those three early three-pointers, only to miss the other four she took during the game. She finished with eleven. Bria Hartley, probably the most consistent Husky this season, again showed off her improved point guard play. She only scored eight points, all in the second half, but she also added seven assists while only committing three turnovers.

Connecticut goes to Louisville next, for a Tuesday night game in the KFC Yum Center, while Rutgers has until next Sunday to rest and get healthy before their rematch with St. John’s.

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