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UConn-St. John's Final: Huskies take down St. John's at MSG, 70-54

It wasn't quite the authoritative victory to which we've become accustomed, but it worked all the same.

Morgan Tuck led the Huskies with 23 points in a 70-54 win over St. John's at Madison Square Garden.
Morgan Tuck led the Huskies with 23 points in a 70-54 win over St. John's at Madison Square Garden.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — It wasn't quite the authoritative victory to which we've become accustomed, but it worked all the same.

For the 39th time in 41 tries, UConn downed St. John's, this time by the score of 70-54 in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Of the 7,419 people in attendance, about 75 percent of them appeared to be pulling for the Huskies. And of course, whenever the mentions of New York and UConn collide, there was discussion of to whom this city belongs.

"There's a lot of people that claim that New York belongs to them," Auriemma said. "There's a lot of schools that wish they had the support that UConn has when we come to New York...It's a great opportunity for us."

While the Huskies were never truly threatened beyond the first few minutes, the win was far from the comfortable, coast-along win that UConn fans so often see.

Early on, with St. John's refusing to slink away, Moriah Jefferson was called upon to keep the Huskies afloat. The junior guard, who averages 11.3 points, made all of her first six shots and put up 14 points in the first 15 minutes to keep UConn out in front.

Her offensive clinic continued a recent trend of phenomenal shooting. Entering Sunday, she had made 22 of her last 29 shots, including a career-high 24 points against SMU. She finished the day with 16 points.

Jefferson was called upon to step up in large part because the the Red Storm keyed heavily on Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to prevent the sharp-shooter from beating them. The senior finished with just six points on 3-of-9 shooting as a result.

"I think it's a good sign [that team's have to focus on me]," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I think it's an even better sign that my teammates are able to respond."

Though it took a little while, a few others did respond to help Jefferson out.

After opening the day 1-for-4, Breanna Stewart hit four of her next six shots and had 12 points at halftime. She finished with 18 points.

Morgan Tuck, too, jumped in on the scoring. In fact, throughout the second half, she, Stewart and Jefferson jockeyed for position as UConn's top scorer. Tuck's 23 points proved enough to win that race.

"You don't want to be the kind of team that's totally dependent on one player," Auriemma said. "Obviously as great a shooter as [Mosqueda-Lewis] is and as great a player as she's become, you've almost got to expect that they're going to [try and shut her down]. And if we're going to have a good team, the other players need to do exactly what they did today."

In reality, this game followed the same story arc as so many that have come before it. The Huskies led by a decent margin - 38-31 - at halftime and, once again, UConn used one of its patented game-breaking runs - this time a 10-2 stretch to start the second half - to put the game away.

But despite the similar script, the win still came with a message not often sent by a UConn team. While this team is talented enough to win just about any game, it just isn't quite clicking at all five positions yet. At times, the harmony is a little out of tune.

Unlike last year, when the Huskies put together its run 40 wins, almost all of which went smoothly, this team still lurches and stalls at points. It makes sense, considering the loss of two key seniors in Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, but can still be jarring for a fan base so accustomed to perfection.

There were spells of sloppy play, stretches of possessions with ugly turnovers and some poor shot choices. The skill and ability are there, no doubt, but Auriemma's machine could still use a bit of greasing - and some help from the bench, which provided just two points.

"I like where [the bench] is because if it were anywhere else I wouldn't be able to see the game," Auriemma said. "I'm just not crazy about who's sitting on it."

But in the end, even when UConn isn't pitch perfect, it's typically more than enough. And it was again on Sunday.

"They're as strong as anybody in the country," St. John's coach Joe Tartamella said. "There's a reason they've got All-Americans. They're really good."