Connecticut opens NCAA title defense with victory over St. Francis Brooklyn
STORRS, Conn. – Connecticut began the defense of its women’s basketball championship at home in the friendly confines of Gampel Pavilion,easily defeating No. 16 seed St. Francis Brooklyn, 89-33.
Coming into the game, St. Francis had eighteen losses on the season. It took UConn nine years to suffer eighteen losses.
Terriers head coach John Thurston had no delusions coming into his team’s first round NCAA tournament game against overall top seed Connecticut.
“To maintain excellence at the highest level that you see at some of the programs in the men’s game and in the women’s game is so incredibly difficult to do,” said Thurston. “I am always really intrigued by that and I really admire those people. I think for the women today, maybe only eight schools can contend with UConn, so for the rest of us, this is what we will remember for the rest of our lives.”
The Terriers came out bombing from three-point range, hitting a few early to trail only 16-11 with 14:31 left in the first half. From there, however, UConn went on a 31-3 run to close out the remainder of the half, holding St. Francis to 1-for-22 shooting during that span. The Huskies outscored the Terriers 32-0 in the paint for the half, and Morgan Tuck had 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting.
“I think the way the game started out, the way Morgan [Tuck] got us going,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, “that’s exactly the way you want to start any game, especially an NCAA tournament game.”
It only got worse in the second half. UConn made 20-of-24 shots, and three of those came in the final minutes after Auriemma replaced his starters.
Tuck set career highs in both points (26) and assists (8), to lead four Huskies in double figures. Predictably, with their size advantage UConn outscored St. Francis 68-6 in points in the paint. Breanna Stewart finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while the freshmen duo of Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse finished with 15 and 12, respectively.
“I was really impressed about how much she [Tuck] has improved,” said Thurston. “Tuck is a tough player to guard.”
“Morgan was a beast like always,” said UConn point guard Moriah Jefferson. “She makes it really easy as a point guard just to dump it in, you know she’s going to knock down those layups and even step up on the outside of the three.”
Senior Sarah Benedetti led St. Francis. She is from Canton, Conn. and had a sizable cheering section of town residents in attendance.
“Coming in, I knew Gampel was a great atmosphere to play in, and this NCAA tournament was exactly what I expected,” said Benedetti smiling after the game. “I knew UConn’s fans would be lively and it was nice to have the support of my family and friends from back home from Canton who came to the game.”
National player of the year candidate Stewart summed up the Huskies’ mentality.
“There are three weeks left of the season, hopefully. We want to make sure every day, whether it is a game or a practice, we are going to get better and get ready to continue throughout the [post] season.”
Despite the excellence shown by Connecticut, the lasting image from this game may not be Tuck or Stewart’s dominance, but will be instead the smile of Benedetti at the end of her college career.
“I had such a great time,” she said, “and it was such an enjoyable experience that I will remember forever.”