KINGSTON, R.I.—Two backdoor cuts and four points — that was UConn’s first two possessions and foreshadowed the rest of the first game in the Kingston Regional of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16.
The No. 1 seed Huskies opened the game on an 18-8 run and pulled away in the second half to eliminate the No. 4 seed Lady Lions (26-7, 13-3 Big Ten) from the NCAA tournament, 77-59.
The Huskies used runs in their favor all evening, including a 23-8 stretch from the 7:52 mark in the first half to after recess. They shot nearly 50 percent from the field and connected on 11 more shots than the Lions.
Five players finished in double digits for the Huskies, including four-of-five starters. True freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis—the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 PPG—ended the contest with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“I think they were just patient on offense. They worked the ball around,” junior forward Mia Nickson said. “They moved the ball side-to-side, and you just look up and their players are cutting to the basket and things like that. They just worked really well together throughout the game, so it was pretty difficult to guard.”
Not only were the Huskies able to find their stroke, but they also played stellar defense and showed everyone why they are the top defensive team in the country. They held the Lions to 59 points, the second lowest the squad has scored all season. It was the first time in the tournament that the Big Ten’s highest scoring team was held to under 85 points.
“We knew going into the game that UConn was a good defense team,” junior guard Alex Bentley said. “They gave great effort and played good team defense.”
Two Lions found their way into double-digits as Nickson finished with 19 points, while sophomore guard Maggie Lucas added 15 tallies of her own.
Penn State was held to just over 36 percent shooting from the field for the game and for the first time this season lost a game when Lucas or Bentley did not lead the way for the Lions.
Head coach Coquese Washington said jitters, especially in the beginning of the game did not help to control the offensive tempo against the Huskies’ defense.
“I definitely think that the intensity with which they played caused us to play fast,” she said. “UConn’s defense, they do a great job of taking you out of what you want to do and making it hard for you to get the looks you want.”
The absence of junior starting center Nikki Greene seemed to hurt the Lions, as she was in foul trouble in the first half and saw only 13 minutes of playing time all evening. She snagged four boards but did not hit a bucket.
“I thought in the first half the foul trouble kept her out of the game and she never really got into a rhythm,” Washington said. “When Nikki Greene doesn’t play a lot of minutes for us, it’s tough for us to be as good as we can be when she’s not on the floor.”
As the Lions exited the NCAA tournament sooner than they would have liked, they look back on the season they had. It was one that made them Big Ten champions and allowed them to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004.
Advancing this far is something that the squad viewed as a positive, but still said that the loss stings a bit.
“Yeah it’s something positive, but it hurts right now,” Bentley said. “You never want to go home, you never want to lose. Our team is very competitive, but I’m proud of my teammates and of the season that we’ve had. I think we fought hard and we put a lot of work in.”