ALBANY — It wasn’t peak UConn women’s basketball, but they did more than enough to defeat Duke in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals on Saturday at the Times Union Center, 72-59.
In their past two games leading up to Saturday, UConn had had lopsided scores in their first two NCAA tournament games, a 25-point win over Quinnipiac in the second round and a nationally-known 88-point margin of victory in the first round against St. Francis of Pennsylvania. As understood in the sports world, with UConn, there’s always a chance of a huge blowout.
As the game began Saturday, UConn was a bit slow early on, allowing Duke to stay in the game, leading by just six at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter was when they turned it on, outscoring Duke 20-6, and that allowed them to gain a 20-point advantage at intermission. It was Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse both scored 10 points in the first half for the Huskies, while Katie Lou Samuelson tacked on nine more. Napheesa Collier had six points and seven rebounds in the first as well.
“Overall, I really think that second quarter gave us that spurt that we needed to kind of show what we could do,” Samuelson said.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma added, “I thought we settled down a little bit in the second quarter, and I think that was the big difference.”
That 20-point advantage at the break allowed UConn to stay calm. Even though they were outscored by the Blue Devils by seven in the second half, it was not enough for Duke to get back into the game.
UConn played a game of runs a lot of the way as they scored the first seven points of the game and then the first 12 of the second quarter. These runs provided for the majority of their leads.
“They’re a team that plays with terrific runs, and you look at their rebounding second shots, they got into transition, and that spells the game pretty quickly. They’re in terrific shape, they can play forever,” Duke coach Joanne McCallie said.
UConn’s lead ballooned to as much as 23 in the second half. The Huskies finished with four players in double figures, that quartet led by Collier who finished with 16. Samuelson and Williams had 15 each and Nurse had 10. UConn’s lead was 19 with ninety seconds to play, but Duke scoring the contest’s final six points made the final score closer than what the game showed.
“Today wasn’t one of those games where you just run up and down and shoot 25 threes and everything goes great. You have to grind it out against a good team. That’s part of what this tournament is all about,” Auriemma said.
UConn will now advance to their 13th straight Elite Eight appearance and seek their 11th straight trip to the Final Four. They will face their only roadblock, South Carolina, next. That game will be played on Monday night at the Times Union Center, and will begin at 7 p.m.