INDIANAPOLIS—Earlier this weekend, redshirt junior Morgan Tuck was selected as a WBCA All-American for the first time in her career. In the UConn women’s basketball team’s Final Four matchup against Oregon State, Tuck showed exactly why she was deserving of such an honor.
The redshirt junior scored a game-high 21 points on 8-13 shooting as the Huskies (37-0) rolled past No. 2 Oregon State 80-51 to punch their ticket to their fourth-straight national championship game.
“It was huge,” Breanna Stewart said of Tuck’s performance. “Morgan stepped up and she was doing what she does. She was playing the game that we all know she can play. And when people are not guarding her and giving her the open shot, as you can see, she knocked it in and really started a run for our team.”
The Bolingbrook, Illinois native was the catalyst for the Huskies’ fast start in the first quarter, scoring 13 of UConn’s 26 points. With the Beavers content on letting Tuck, a 31 percent shooter from beyond the arc, shoot from the outside, she received a handful of open looks from deep early on and made the most of them as she posted 20 or more points in the NCAA tournament for the sixth time.
“It's kind of weird sometimes being that wide open when you catch the ball because you're not used to it,” Tuck said. “I knew I would have to knock in some shots so it would open the lane up so we could get more than just outside shots.”
While Tuck hasn’t statistically been a sound three-point shooter in her career at Storrs, Auriemma cited her ability to come through in big games as one of the reasons she’s been so much better from beyond the arc as of late. Since the start of the American Athletic Conference tournament, Tuck is shooting 45 percent (14-31) from the three-point line.
“So going into today's game I wasn't thinking how has Tuck been shooting the ball. I just know when we play big games, they go in,” Auriemma said. “And I could tell, when we left Connecticut, the bigger the game, the more she makes. She and Stewie are a lot alike in that regard. They make shots, but then in big games they make a lot of shots. And they make big shots. And I'm not surprised. Let's hope she has one more of them.”
Tuck credits her improvement to Auriemma and Stewart for rounding out one of the few weak spots in her game.
“Well, I'll give credit to Coach and Stewie. Coach has really been kind of on me about my shot and making those threes. And me and Stewie, we've been getting into the gym a lot. So I give them the credit for that,” Tuck said.
With star Breanna Stewart in foul trouble after picking up her second personal foul just 2:07 into the game, Tuck slid in to defend the Beavers’ 6-foot-6-inch Ruth Hamblin, an AP All-American honorable mention and one of the Beavers’ three 1,000-point scorers. Tuck and Gabby Williams combined to keep Hamblin in check for the duration of the game despite Hamblin’s height advantage, holding her to just 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“They were very physical with me, kind of got me off the block. I didn't get them deep enough in that regard,” Hamblin said of Tuck and Williams’ defense. “But they were really strong and able to tip passes, so it made it difficult for the guards to get me the ball.”
Katie Lou Samuelson’s season came to an end in the first half of the Oregon State game due to a broken bone in her left foot. After heading into the locker room at halftime, Gabby Williams replaced the standout freshman in the lineup and Samuelson returned to the bench in a walking boot.
Samuelson finished the season averaging 11 points and 3.35 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from the three-point line in 37 games. She set the UConn record for most points in an NCAA tournament debut with 22 in the Huskies’ first-round win over Robert Morris.
“I guess it happened on the very first possession that we had where she drove it to the basket and she said she felt something but didn't really say anything and just continued to play on it. And it wasn't until late in the first half that we found out that there was something wrong,” Auriemma said. “And then before the half started, before the second half started, Rosemary Ragle, our athletic trainer, told me she has a broken bone in her foot and she's out.”
Dropping Dimes Everywhere
With two assists in the first quarter, Moriah Jefferson became UConn’s all-time assist leader, passing Diana Taurasi’s record of 648 assists. The senior point guard would finish the night with 10 points and seven assists to put her at 654 for her career with one game left in her career.
”’D’ (Diana Taurasi) is such an amazing player and just to have my name in any book she’s in means a lot to me.” Jefferson said. “It means a lot. When I was on the floor I completely forgot about it and after I was like ‘Oh wait, I got it,’ so I am so happy to be able to do that with this group of guys. They do a good job of making shots so my job is easy.”