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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, March 30, 2015

UConn defense turns up the heat in second half to clinch Final Four berth

UConn headed into Monday's Elite Eight game against Dayton leading the country in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense and ranking seventh in 3-point defense. Well, they looked like anything but a defensive terror in the opening 20 minutes.

Dayton, which dropped 99 points in stunning Kentucky on its home court and then eliminating two-time NCAA finalist Louisville to advance to the regional final for the first time in program history, showed no sense of intimidation facing the heavily-favored Huskies. What the Flyers did display was an ability to make shots.

Senior Ally Malott, who was on UConn's recruiting radar until it became clear that she was going to stay close to her Middletown, Ohio home, was 4 of 4 from 3-point range and had 14 points - by halftime. The Flyers were 7 of 10 from 3-point range and one of the misses was a half-court heave by Andrea Hoover that didn't miss by much.

"I am glad all of those guys made all of those shots because  it reinforced to our guys that 'if I put my hand up, I put it up and if I don't, I don't, it doesn't matter.' It does matter and they learned that tonight. In the second half there was a lot more and they learned that tonight. In the second half there was a lot more of a sense of 'here is how we are going to guard those ball screens and everybody is going to guard them like that.. They worked really hard. That first 10 minutes of the second half we got every loose ball, we rebounded, we contested shots, we forced turnovers. I think we took their legs out from them a little bit, they weren't able to just cleanly look at those 3s."

Malott had a simpler explanation.

"We knew they were probably getting yelled at a little bit (at halftime) and we knew that they were going to come out flying and maybe go on a run which they did."

Dayton did not attempt its first 3-pointer of the second half until more than seven minutes had elapsed. The first made 3 came with 11:55 left in the game.

"We were getting shots and we were making buckets," Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. "I thought we weren't going to be able to shoot it like that in the second half because we were on fire and I knew they were going to make adjustments. As I walked into the locker room I had to try to figure out what do we have to adjust to our offense because they are going to make some adjustments. They started switching all ball screens and we had a real hard time getting open in the second half."

Dayton shot just 37 percent from the floor in the second half and made just three second-half 3s.

The 21-point winning margin didn't truly indicate how competitive the game was.

Auriemma said he "I was sick to my stomach all day today" about the prospects of facing an offensive team like Dayton that has players who can score both inside and out. He called Dayton one of the best teams the Huskies have faced in the last five years.
"This is the best way to send us to the Final Four," UConn junior forward Breanna Stewart said. "It is a game when we really had to compete for the whole 40 minutes. Dayton never really gave up. We knew that they were a good team, they are in the Elite Eight for reason as everybody saw in the first half and for the whole game. they are better than everybody thinks and we didn't want to undeestimate them."

Malott credited the defense of Morgan Tuck for shutting her down in the second half. Tuck was happy to step up to the challenge.

During the game Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis became the NCAA Division I career leader in 3-pointers made. She needed five to move by former Kansas State star Laurie Koehn and Tennessee-Martin great Heather Butler. She ended up with seven. She also moved by Skylar Diggins, Alana Beard, Cheryl Miller and Candace Parker and into ninth place on the NCAA Division I tournament career scoring list. She also moved into sole possession of third place on the NCAA tournament 3-point list.

"My challenge was to try to limit her touches with the ball and when she did get it, I tried to guard it as hard as I could," Tuck said.

Stewart was the Albany Regional's Most Outstanding Player after averaging 27 points and 14 rebounds in the two games. Mosqueda-Lewis joined her on the all-tournament team and the duo were named to the Wooden Award All-American team along with Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, Tiffany Mitchell of South Carolina and Baylor's Nina Davis.

Tuck, Malott and Hoover were also named to the all-tournament team.

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