UNCASVILLE—As the regular season came to an end, the UConn women’s basketball team struggled getting going early in games, trailing their opponent after the first quarter in their last two regular-season matchups.
Their first postseason game of the year was a different story.
The Huskies wasted no time getting out in front of East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals, cruising to a 92-51 victory and making it 11-straight seasons with at least 30 wins.
“We came out pretty much on fire. Guys are knocking in shots, defense was great. We took them out of it right away,” UConn’s Moriah Jefferson said of the Huskies’ first quarter. “It’s tournament time, you’ve got to take it up to another notch now.”
UConn (30-0) wasted no time getting ahead of the Pirates, making seven-straight baskets in the first quarter to take a 32-13 lead. Katie Lou Samuelson played a major role in getting the Huskies going early, scoring six of her eight first-quarter points in 17 seconds to spark an 8-0 run and give UConn a 14-5 lead.
Morgan Tuck would help the Huskies grow their lead even more in the second quarter, scoring seven of her 16 points in the second quarter and helping UConn close out the final 5:05 of the first half on a 9-0 run. The Huskies’ run to end the half would give UConn a 52-22 lead as the Huskies held East Carolina (13-19) to just nine second-quarter points.
“She played really really well. The biggest thing about Morgan is for the most she’s just really an efficient player, she doesn’t need a lot of shots to get a lot of things accomplished,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Today, she looked like her old self.”
Tuck and Samuelson would finish the day with a game-high 16 points. Breanna Stewart and Kia Nurse the two in double figures with 15 and 13 points respectively. Gabby Williams was the fifth Husky in double figures with 14 points off the bench. The sophomore scored her first basket of the night with 5:08 left in the third quarter for the Huskies’ first bench points of the day and would finish with 14 of the team’s 24 bench points in just 19 minutes
“She gets a lot done in a short period of time, and that’s what you want from somebody coming off the bench” Auriemma said of Williams. “She’s been really really good at that.”
After scoring her 2,000th career point with a 26-point effort in the Pirates’ opening-round win over Cincinnati, senior Jada Payne finished her career with a 16-point effort on 6-15 shooting. Payne struggled getting going early much like she has against the Huskies all season, scoring her first field goal with 6:48 left in the first half. Payne finished second in the American in scoring with 19.6 points per game, but averaged just 12.3 points in three matchups against UConn.
Despite playing just 22 minutes, Stewart still managed to keep climbing in the UConn record books, passing former teammate Stefanie Dolson for fourth all-time in rebounds as part of her 15-point, eight-rebound effort.
Stewart will have a chance to gain more ground against Dolson Sunday evening, as the Huskies return to action Tulane in the American Conference Tournament semifinals. The Green Wave narrowly beat Memphis 70-64 thanks to 23 points from Kolby Morgan. Tulane and the Huskies squared off just over a week ago, with the Green Wave leading 13-6 at the end of the first quarter before UConn came back and decisively won 80-40.
Sunday’s game between UConn and Tulane will tip off at 4:30 p.m. Sunday and can be seen on ESPNU.