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Defense carries UConn to an easy win over Penn State

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published March 26. 2012 4:00AM   Updated March 26. 2012 11:10AM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Stefanie Dolson of UConn shoots over Penn State's Talia East (5) Sunday during the NCAA women's basketball tournament regional semifinal game at Kingston, R.I. UConn won 77-59.

Kingston, R.I. - UConn women's basketball fans have never been famous for living in the moment. They buy Final Four tickets in the summer and remain obsessed with future recruits more than the current players.

But if you could turn your attention away from Breanna Stewart and Denver to the Ryan Center for a moment …

The team over which coach Geno Auriemma expressed doubts earlier this season about its ability to win the national championship is a win away from a chance to prove him incorrect.

And when the top-seeded Huskies play the way they did Sunday in the Sweet 16, would you truly want to bet against them?

UConn began the game with consecutive back-door layups, blitzed Penn State with a 13-2 run to begin the second half and eventually advanced to their seventh straight Elite Eight with a 77-59 victory over No. 5 Penn State.

The Huskies play former Norwich Free Academy great Kastine Evans and second-seeded Kentucky in the regional final Tuesday at 7 p.m. for a berth in the Final Four.

"We wanted to make sure this was a team thing rather than look around for somebody to have a big night," Auriemma said. "Our team was going to have to play great defense and our team was going to have to execute offensively. I was really happy after the game to sit back and say that's exactly what it was. When you look at the stat sheet it tells some of the story but this is one of the more complete games we played in a while and it couldn't have come at a better time."

The stat sheet perhaps tells more than Auriemma thinks: like five players with at least 10 points, led by Bria Hartley, who had 20. Kelly Faris finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Stefanie Dolson and Tiffany Hayes had 10 points apiece.

UConn's defense held a Penn State offense, averaging nearly 80 points per game, to 59. Guards Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley combined to shoot 7-for-31. They average more than 31 points per game between them.

"UConn played like a team that had experience playing at this level and our kids came into this game ready, they were prepared, I think they were probably a little too prepared, too eager for the game," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. "They played uncharacteristically fast. Because sometimes when you want the win so much you can play too hard and I thought UConn played relaxed because they've been here before."

UConn (32-4) led 24-10 early before Penn State used an 11-2 run to close it to 26-21. Timeout, UConn.

"We started becoming pass it twice and shoot jump shots," Auriemma said. "That's what a team like Penn State will do to you. They will run down and take a quick shot and if you're not careful you will go back and do the same. If you keep them on defense a little bit longer, it makes it harder for them to keep up that transition game. They are expending a lot of energy on the defensive end guarding you. I think that changed the game no question."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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