No. 1 UConn women rout No. 2 Duke
DURHAM, N.C. — You figured time might be on Duke’s side Tuesday. Maybe this would be the night the Blue Devils could put the past behind them and summon the resources to knock UConn off the mountaintop the Huskies have grazed upon for so long.
Yes, that would have made for a nice story.
But the reality was something quite different. Or should we say the same.
Thriving with the offense of Breanna Stewart, and the remarkable, clutch shooting of returning Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the Huskies secured their hold on No. 1 with their 83-61 win over Duke before a sellout crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“This is why we come to UConn,” said Stewart, who was 8 of 19 from the field. “We come here to play in big games. We know we have a big target on our back. We understand opponents will be giving us their best.”
The Huskies (11-0) have one more non-conference game remaining — against California at Madison Square Garden — before they begin play for the first time in the American Athletic Conference.
Stewart led the Huskies with 24 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and three assists. But right behind her was Mosqueda-Lewis, a light brace cradling her right elbow. She scored 21 points on seven three-pointers. All 11 of her shots were threes.
“I set my expectations low and hoped for the best,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I was somewhat surprised, but all I have really been doing since I was injured is shoot. I was hoping I would make a couple.”
Meanwhile, Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie was left to recount all that went wrong.
“It was an interesting game for us,” McCallie said. “We didn’t play well defensively, we didn’t rebound particularly well and we weren’t very patient on offense when they were in the course of building their lead.”
Duke (10-1) was led by Chelsea Gray, who scored 13 points. Haley Peters added 11. But Duke was just 4 of 18 from three-point range and took only five free throws.
“Some of the shots we took were just terrible,” McCallie said. “We didn’t execute very well. You can’t make things out of nothing.”
UConn took a 23-point lead (38-15) in the first half and then fought off a series of miniature Duke rallies. They did so through the constant pounding of Stewart and the shooting of Mosqueda-Lewis, who smashed the Blue Devils with her trademark three-point shooting.
Seemingly every time Duke threatened — and the Blue Devils fought until the end — Mosqueda-Lewis, who played 27 minutes, was there with her daggers.
And with four minutes to play in the game, UConn was back ahead, 76-52, sending Duke back to the drawing board.
“I had no idea what to expect from her,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said. “We were even prepared to play the entire game without her, if need be. But we wouldn’t have won the way we won without her.”
The Blue Devils have now lost seven straight to UConn since defeating the Huskies in an Elite Eight in Bridgeport during the Gail Goestenkors era.
“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” Gray said.
The first thing the Blue Devils had to do was address the return of Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, two important pieces of the UConn core rotation.
Mosqueda-Lewis, a WBCA All-American as a sophomore, hadn’t played since bruising a nerve in her right elbow in a fall early in the second half of the win over Stanford on Nov. 11.
Tuck, the versatile sophomore forward, opted for arthroscopic surgery on her balky left knee after the Stanford game.
Now they were back, their minutes making UConn’s roster deeper and more flexible. And Mosqueda-Lewis dropped a pair of three-pointers in her 11 first-half minutes.
UConn was 8-0 without Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck. Both came off the bench Tuesday as Auriemma stuck with what’s been working, a starting five of Moriah Jefferson, Brianna Banks, Bria Hartley, Stewart and Stefanie Dolson. Tuck played just nine minutes and had no points, shots or rebounds.
This began as most UConn games do, with a simmer that soon turned into a steady boil. Duke made five of its first 14 shots and was down just one, 12-11, with 15:35 to play in the half after a basket by Peters.
But then, suddenly, it was UConn’s game. The Huskies held the Blue Devils without a field goal for 8:33 to build a 28-12 lead.
They did it the way they usually do. On defense, they shut down the perimeter; Duke was just 2 of 11 from three in the first half. And on offense UConn put the ball in Stewart’s hands.
Stewart scored 12 of her 15 first-half points practically in the blink of an eye. And when Stewart didn’t have it, Jefferson did, adding nine points, all in the first half, with her unique combination of slick and swift.
“The best game she’s played at UConn,” Auriemma said.