Uncasville, Conn. - On Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena in front of 7,635 home fans, the Connecticut Huskies looked like a well oiled machine. Within the first few minutes in the game, No. 1 UConn (33-0) built a 13-0 lead on No. 24 Rutgers in the American Athletic Conference semifinals.
There was nothing the Scarlet Knights (22-9) could do about it. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer called a timeout and made changes to the line-up, but the Husky run continued. By the 13-minute mark, UConn built a lead of 25-4. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis hit three three-pointers during that span while Breanna Stewart was struggling with her shot.
However, Stewart was doing the little things, allowing the game to come to her. On a Moriah Jefferson turnover which started a Rutgers fastbreak, Stewart sprinted down the count and blocked an eventual easy lay-up.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to get it," Stewart said. "I thought I was too far away but she slowed up a little bit and I was able to get there and make the block."
Stewart would finish with a game-high 22 points and seven rebounds.
All five UConn starters scored in double figures - Mosqueda-Lewis 19 points, Stefanie Dolson 15 points, Bria Hartley 12 points, and Jefferson 10 points.
This pleased coach Geno Auriemma.
"Everyone got involved. That first 20 minutes was as good of basketball I can hope for in the postseason," Auriemma noted.
The Huskies built a 50-19 lead at the half, shooting almost 59%. During Saturday's quarterfinal against Cincinnati, UConn struggled shooting the ball from long range but on Sunday they were 9 for 13 in the first half and 13 for 22 for the game.
Stringer compared the Huskies to a boxer who wants to knock you out immediately. After they apply the initial knockout blows in the first few moments of the game, they just shadow box the rest of the way.
Rutgers came out of the locker room and went on a 9-3 run to get the lead to 53-28 But then the Huskies just answered with another knockout punch and went on to the 83-57 victory. UConn will face No. 3 Louisville on Monday night at 7pm (ESPN) for the championship of the American women's basketball tournament.
The Cardinals (30-3) outlasted the upset minded South Florida Bulls in the semifinals. The Bulls built an early 10 point first half lead and led most of the second half. However, Shoni Schimmel scored the game winning basket with six seconds to play and her sister Jude stole the inbounds pass to secure the 60-56 victory.
The Huskies have dominated the Cardinals in two wins during the regular season. Last week, Louisville opened up a 7-0 lead on UConn, but the Huskies were able to withstand the run and eventually went on to win by a score of 68-48.
Auriemma admitted that it is difficult playing a team twice within a week.
"It's never easy to play someone two times in the span of a week. There is a lot of things that Louisville does that we struggle with and there is a lot of stuff that we do that they struggle with."
There is a lot at stake for both teams tonight. Obviously, Auriemma envisioned his team will be playing in the inaugural championship game and he expects to win.
"We had to prove over the first five months that we're the best team in the league," Auriemma said. "We should be playing tonight. There are two really good teams playing tonight."
And with a win - "it will be first of many"
However, Louisville coach Jeff Walz knows tonight is important in terms of NCAA seeding. With a win, the Cardinals should secure the final No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With a Huskies win, it is likely that UConn will be top seed in the Louisville Regional and the Cardinals will be the No. 2 seed.
"We know in order to beat them, we have to play a great game at the defensive end of the floor because they score the ball so well," Walz said. "We're going to have to figure out a way to score."