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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Impressive defensive effort leads UConn back to the Final Four

There were moments of jaw-dropping brilliance, especially on the four blocked shots that freshmen Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson combined for, but it so many ways the Huskies punched a ticket to their 14th Final Four including a record-setting sixth in a row the same way they got there so many times before - with an absolutely suffocating defensive effort.

The Elite Eight game was a tad bit interesting when UConn's leading scorer Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis headed to the bench with 11:42 left in the first half while the Huskies were locked in a tight game.

When DeNesha Stallworth hit a pair of layups 29 seconds apart, Kentucky led the top-seeded Huskies by a point. What followed next was a defensive stretch as impressive as the Huskies have had this season.

The Wildcats missed 11 straight shots and committed three turnovers over the next 7:45. By the time Jelleah Sidney ended the drought with a banked-in 3-pointer, the Wildcats were already down by 16.

"They really whipped us in every way imaginable tonight," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It was a rough 40 minutes for us and they had a lot to do with that."

The focus of UConn's defensive effort was slowing down redshirt sophomore guard Jen O'Neill who had Kentucky's first five points.

Who better to make her life difficult that her former AAU teammate Bria Hartley?

"I thought keeping the ball out of Jen's hands and A'dia Mathies got into foul trouble so that  didn't really help Kentucky," Hartley said. "Jen was kind of the one who gets the offense going so keeping the ball out of her hands really helped in those last few minutes of the first half."

Kentucky made seven of its first 11 shots to keep pace with the Huskies but would shot 23 percent the rest of the way as the Huskies finished off an dominating run through the Bridgeport regional.

"I certainly didn't expect to win the Maryland game by 26 and certainly wasn't going into tonight thinking that this was going to be a 36-point game like it was at one point but if we get on those runs like the ones we get on today at the end of the first half, we just take people and make them feel like there is nothing they can do about it," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Our defense starts it and our defense finishes it off and today was a perfect example of that. They are not an easy team to defend because they have great quickness and they are an aggressive offensive team. We knew that and for us to do what we did, we turned it over less than they did and we outrebounded them and we did all the things we needed to do and that was pretty special tonight."

While everybody chipped in defensively, the 26-3 run started with a 3-pointer by senior Caroline Doty which gave the Huskies the lead for good.

"I was like 'it is about time,'" Doty said. "I was working on it forever but it was part of the game. My role here is to keep the team composed, I know what Coach wants from the team. If Kaleena is hot, if Bria is hot, if Stef is hot, Stewie is hot it is my job to get them the ball because when the ball is in their hands good things are going to happen."

Doty and fellow fifth-year senior Heather Buck joins the LSU duo of Khalilah Mitchell and Marian Whitfield by being members of five Final Four squads.

"People say I am unlucky because of injuries and stuff but I am pretty lucky to go to five Final Fours," Doty said. "It is something every basketball player dreams of and the fact that I was able to do it five years in a row with such a great team, I give all the credit to the coaching staff. Every single year they are on top of us from day one about getting everything perfect and if we didn't strive for perfection there is no way we would be here."

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