STORRS, Conn. (AP) – The UConn women’s team was in an online group chat watching the UMBC men upset top-seeded Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The players assured each other that they weren’t going to let anything similar happened to them. All upset hopes ended in the first few minutes of this game as the Huskies went on to a record-setting rout.
Azura Stevens scored 26 points and 10 rebounds to lead six UConn players in double figures and the Huskies opened their NCAA Tournament with a 140-52 defeat of Saint Francis (Pa.) on Saturday.
“I don’t think (the UMBC) game put extra pressure on us, but watching a No. 1 go down kind of motivated us to kind of come out from the start to be ready to go,” Stevens said.
The women’s top seed set a record for points in a tournament game and all-time NCAA records for points in a period (55 in the first) and a half (94 in the first). And UConn’s 88-point margin of victory was the second-biggest in tournament history. Baylor beat Texas Southern by 89 in the 2017 tournament.
The previous record for points in a tournament game was 121. The previous mark for points in a half was 80 and for a quarter was 45.
“I don’t think we were really aware, said Katie Lou Samuelson, who had 18 points and 10 assists. “We were aware of how quickly we were going up and down the court at that first media timeout. But, we were just getting a lot of opportunities and taking advantage of them whenever we could.”
Kia Nurse finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Napheesa Collier had 25 points and nine assists.
UConn (33-0) shot 65 percent from the floor, 73.6 percent in the first half, and outscored the No. 16 seed 96-10 in the paint.
Haley Thomas had 12 points and Caitlyn Kroll 11 for Saint Francis, which finishes the season 24-10. Jessica Kovatch, who came in as the nation’s second leading scorer at just under 25 points per game, finished with nine, all in the second half.
Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh said his game plan was to outscore the Huskies, to run and gun, while leaving UConn’s post players open for mid-range jump shots. His team averaged nearly 81 points a game coming into Saturday. The strategy didn’t work.
“There was only one chance that we would have had to come close in this game and that was going to be to shoot a million threes and hope that they go in,” Haigh said. “So, we shot a million 3s and we didn’t make them.”
The Red Flash attempted 57 shots from behind the arc, making just 10 of them.
Samuelson opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, the Huskies made their first nine shots. They took their first 30-point lead in the first quarter on Samuelson’s reverse layup that made it 41-10 and ended the quarter with a 55-19 lead.
Collier’s basket with more than six minutes left in the second quarter gave UConn a 68-26 lead, giving the Huskies the tournament record for points in a half. Nurse’s layup with more than three minutes remaining made it 82-28, giving them the NCAA record. UConn led 94-31 at the break.
UConn is looking for its 12th national title and fifth in six years. The Huskies haven’t lost in the opening round since 1993.
Saint Francis (Pa.): The Red Flash are 0-12 in the NCAA Tournament, with three of those losses coming to UConn. The Huskies won by 51 points in 1999 and by 49 points in 2002. Saint Francis’ 24 wins this season are the most since the program won 25 in 2003-04.
UConn: The Huskies improved to 96-10 in the NCAA Tournament as a top seed and 114-18 overall, all under Geno Auriemma, who is the winningest coach in the tournament’s history.
UConn’s scoring output was 19 points better than the old NCAA record of 121 set by Alabama against Duke in a four overtime game in the second round of the 1995 tournament. It also was just nine points fewer than Points than the all-time NCAA record put up by Long Beach State in a 149-69 win over San Jose State in February, 1987.
The Huskies also set a tournament record for rebounds and assists. They had 38 helpers on their 59 baskets. The old record was 37 by Stanford against Arkansas in the 1990 West Regional Final. Northwestern State holds the all-time record, getting 43 in a game against Arkansas Baptist in January, 1987.
The team’s 69 rebounds were two more than Duke pulled down against Alabama in that 1995 contest. Kentucky also had 67 against Wright State in a 2014 first-round game.
Saint Francis also set a record with its 57 attempts from behind the arc. The old record was 52 by Alabama in that game against the Blue Devils.
The Huskies usually have a short bench, going six or seven players deep. Seven reserves saw action on Saturday and outscored the Saint Francis bench 62-12.
HE SAID IT:
UConn coach Geno Auriemma: “I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in anything quite like that. That was quite different than anything I’ve experienced either in the regular season or the NCAA Tournament. I thought we just took advantage of all the things that were available to us the entire game.”
Saint Francis Ace Harrison, a graduate transfer from Maryland, wore the same pair of shoes she had on when playing in the Final Four for the Terps in 2015. They were neon green with orange laces. She had two points and had two rebounds in an 81-58 loss to UConn in national semifinals and finished with four points on 1-of-8 shooting on Saturday.
UConn will play Quinnipiac on Monday night, looking to make the Sweet 16 for a 25th straight season.