Strong second half by Moriah Jefferson keys UConn rout of Duke, 83-52

HARTFORD, Conn. – After a shaky start that saw second-ranked Connecticut turn the ball over five times in the first five minutes of the game, the Huskies turned to their trademark stifling defense to pull away from tenth-ranked Duke, rolling to an 83-52 victory before a crowd of 13,514 at the XL Center.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said about the difference between her team and Geno Auriemma’s Huskies. “The bottom line is they play harder than everybody else. They played harder than us. They got every hustle play.”

Still, Duke did get off to that strong start, leading 6-5 four minutes in, but when McCallie went to a bigger lineup, sitting senior point guard Ka’lia Johnson and leaving a freshmen backcourt of Sierra Calhoun and Rebecca Greenwell to handle UConn’s pressure defense, the momentum turned.

Over the next four minutes, Duke turned the ball over seven times, and their 6-5 lead became an 18-8 deficit. While they made a run to tie it at 22 with eight minutes to go in the half, UConn went on a 11-4 run to close out the period with a 33-26 lead.

Duke, known for its size and ability to rebound, was out rebounded by Connecticut 33-26 in the first half, and All-American center Elizabeth Williams, while leading the team with 10 points in the half, needed 12 shots to get them.

The second half opened with Moriah Jefferson draining a wide-open three pointer for UConn. “My grandmother could have made that shot she was so wide open,” said McCallie.

The junior guard dominated the second half, scoring 15 points in the on 5-for-7 shooting, nailing three three-pointers and gathering four steals. On the heels of a career-high scoring performance against SMU on Sunday, this was the second dominant performance by Jefferson in a row.

In addition to Jefferson, the other UConn starters all scored in double figures, with Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis adding 14, Morgan Tuck 13, and Kia Nurse 11. UConn hit 60 percent of their shots in the second half, as they wore down the inexperienced Blue Devils, who started three freshmen.

With the strong start to the season by the Blue Devils, beating Kentucky and almost defeating number one South Carolina, it is easy to forget this is a team with an inexperienced backcourt, having lost to injury, transfer and graduation all of the significant guards from last season. The trio of Johnson, Calhoun, and Greenwell combined to shoot 1-for-14 from the floor and committed 12 turnovers against UConn’s intensity and pressure.

McCallie was clearly disappointed in the second half performance of her team though.

“Although I would have liked to have made more shots, it’s about how you represent and how you hustle as a team. We did not do that, especially in the second half.”

Freshman Azura Stevens impressed for Duke, scoring a team high 16 points and showing a nice array of inside and outside moves for a 6-5 player. Williams scored 15, and pulled down a game high eight rebounds.

Connecticut plays East Carolina Wednesday afternoon in a return to conference play, while Duke returns home to host North Carolina A&T in their final non-conference game of the season.

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