BRIDGEPORT— No. 10 Oregon’s Cinderella run came to an end Monday night. Consider the UConn women’s basketball team the evil stepmother.
The Ducks’ unprecedented run to the Bridgeport regional final came an end shortly after it started as the No. 1 Huskies (36-0) blew out Oregon in a wire-to-wire 90-52 victory to clinch UConn’s 10th-straight Final Four appearance.
“Right from the opening tap, we just had a look and a feel about how we were playing and what we were trying to do,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “And I thought our defense was spectacular right from the opening possession and stayed that way pretty much throughout the whole game.”
After forcing a season-low six turnovers in their Sweet 16 victory over the Bruins, the Huskies looked more like their old selves Monday, taking advantage of an inexperienced Oregon back court. By the end of the first quarter, the Ducks had eight turnovers, and they finished the first half with 17.
Oregon freshman Sabrina Ionescu and sophomore Maite Cazorla combined for 12 of the Ducks’ 22 total turnovers just two days after committing a total of five in Saturday’s upset over No. 3 Maryland.
“The turnovers doomed us right from the get-go, and that defensive pressure I think really set the tone,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said.
“They were pressuring us,” Cazorla said. “They were denying us all passing lanes. I think it was just our mistake. We didn't come to get the ball.”
Saniya Chong picked up right where she left off in the early going against the Ducks. After dropping 16 points against UCLA, Chong scored eight of her 11 points in the opening quarter to help the Huskies pull away from the start.
The senior point guard hit back-to-back 3-pointers to stretch the lead to 12-4 less than three minutes in, before then snagging a steal and scored an easy layup nearly four minutes later to put UConn up 23-4.
Chong would finish the night with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists on 4-7 shooting.
“It felt really good right away with those threes. It just get’s everyone excited,” Chong said of her hot start. “It just gives everyone this edge.”
UConn continued to cruise through the second quarter, ending the first half on a 15-3 run with eight points from sophomore Napheesa Collier. Collier led all scorers with 28 points and added a game-high 12 rebounds for her 16th double-double of the season.
Collier broke the 1,000-point mark early in the fourth quarter and was named the Bridgeport Regional’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring a total of 55 points and hauling in 26 rebounds in her two games in Bridgeport.
“I was kind of surprised that they we were sagging off of us, so we just shot it and whenever we were opened we were going to shoot,” Collier said.
Fresh off of being named a second-team All-American, junior Gabby Williams turned in an impressive performance of her own, scoring 25 points and earning a spot on the Bridgeport all-Regional team. Williams made an impact like usual in the post, but her ability to step out and hit midrange jumpers hurt the Ducks the most.
“Gabby Williams has shown at times that maybe she's got as comfortable shooting that 17-footer as she was tonight,” Graves said. “You've got to kind of give up something. I think when you're maybe not quite as good, you have to kind of pick your poison. That was one we picked. We chose wrong.”
Williams led all Huskies with eight points in the third quarter, and while the Ducks hit their final eight shots of the period, it didn’t matter. The Huskies still led by 29, and 10 more minutes led them to their 10th-consecutive Final Four.
Kia Nurse joined Collier, Chong and Williams in double figures with 11 points, and tied the UConn program record set by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of most 3-pointers in one NCAA tournament with 20. Nurse is 20-26 from beyond the arc this season, shooting 76.9 percent.
The win over the Ducks has the Huskies primed for a matchup against No. 2 Mississippi State, who defeated No. 1 Baylor 94-85 in overtime Sunday night. Last season, UConn throttled the Bulldogs 98-38 in last year’s Sweet 16.
“I watched the whole game last night,” Auriemma said. “That’s not the same Mississippi State team we played last year here. That's a whole different team. They have a lot of the same players, but that's a whole different team.”
UConn now has 18 Final Four appearances in its history, tied with Tennessee for the most all-time. The streak of 10 in a row ties John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty, which made 10-straight Final Four appearances from 1967-76.
“Yeah, I mean, it's hard to put it into any kind of context, you know? I don't know what the previous record was. So I don't have anything to compare it to,” Auriemma said. “It's such a hard feat to accomplish in so many ways. It only takes one loss.”