For the 25th consecutive year, the UConn women’s basketball team will compete in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. This time, the Huskies will face off against the No. 5-seeded Duke Blue Devils in the regional semifinal of the Albany Region on Saturday afternoon.
UConn (34-0) breezed through the first two rounds of the tournament last weekend. As the No. 1 seed, the Huskies were hosts for their quadrant of the region and both of their games were held at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. UConn put that home court advantage to good use, defeating No. 16 Saint Francis (PA) 140-52 and then No. 9 Quinnipiac 71-46.
The difference between the Huskies’ first and second round matchups was night and day. Saint Francis (PA) tried to run with the Huskies, shooting 57 3-pointers in hopes of winning a shootout. After seeing that strategy fail miserably, Quinnipiac tried to slow down the game and took the full shot clock on nearly every first-half possession. Neither strategy came close to dethroning the No. 1 Huskies.
Duke (24-8) advanced to the Sweet 16 with a dominant 66-40 victory over No. 4 Georgia on the Bulldogs’ home court. The No. 5 Blue Devils had a second quarter reminiscent to several UConn quarters this season, holding Georgia to just two points in the entire quarter while outscoring the Bulldogs 20-2.
Georgia shot just 1-19 in that second quarter, and the Duke defense held the Bulldogs to 23.5 percent from the field for the game. Offensively, Duke made up for committing 21 turnovers by shooting 50 percent from the field.
Lexie Brown leads Duke in scoring this season, averaging 19.7 points per game. Brown was also the leader of the stifling Blue Devils defense against Georgia. The redshirt senior guard recorded seven steals in the Round of 32 victory. UConn senior guard Kia Nurse generally defends the opponent’s best guard, meaning she will likely matchup with Brown Saturday.
Brown and fellow redshirt senior guard Rebecca Greenwell are known as the “Splash Sisters,” and the Huskies will have to focus on the dynamic duo to stop the Blue Devils’ offense. Greenwell ranks second on the team with 14.2 points per game this season, including a game with 31 points against North Carolina. The two guards have combined to score 49 percent of Duke’s points this season.
The Huskies and Blue Devils have faced off twice in the NCAA Tournament. Both meetings came in the Elite Eight, and UConn advanced to the Final Four each time. UConn leads the all-time series 11-3 and has won each of the last eight meetings.
On the other side of the regional semifinal, defending national champion and No. 2-seeded South Carolina will take on No. 11 Buffalo, who has already upset the No. 6 and No. 3 teams in the region. The winner of the Sweet 16 matchup between UConn and Duke will face a tough matchup in the Elite Eight on Monday.
Duke will try to put a halt to UConn’s pursuit of perfection Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York. The game will be aired on ESPN.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.