It took about a quarter to warm up, but behind some more stellar offense from the Huskies latest Big 3 and even more impressive defense, UConn punched their ticket to their 27th straight Sweet 16, grinding out a 83-47 win over Syracuse in last night’s Round of 32 matchup.
The Orange gave the Huskies some trouble with their 2-3 zone and 6-foot-7 freshman Kamilla Cardoso in the first half, but UConn did just enough to enter halftime with a comfortable lead before blowing the doors open in the second half en route to the 36-point victory.
“No one had to be superhuman, everyone just had to do what they did and do it well,” Head coach Chris Dailey said. “I thought every person that came in … we had people step up, do their role and play their part and that’s nice to see.”
Cardoso got off to a hot start for the Orange, scoring the team’s first six points, but it was the Huskies’ Aaliyah Edwards going toe-to-toe with the ACC Freshman of the Year, scoring six straight for UConn and helping the Huskies get out to a 19-14 lead after one.
Starting in place of the injured Nika Muhl, Edwards poured in 19 points in the game, including a career-high nine free throws to go along with five boards and four assists.
“I thought she started out a little nervous which is to be expected,” Dailey said. “But then I thought she gave us great minutes … She has some guard skills and can do a lot of different things. She and Liv are playing really well together and I think the longer the season goes, that relationship and that connection has been [becoming] really strong.”
The Huskies’ defense made some adjustments heading into the second quarter, holding Syracuse to just 4/17 shooting, while on the offensive end it was Paige Bueckers’ time to turn on the jets.
After a slow start in the first, the Big East Player of the Year lit up the Orange for 10 of her game-high 20 points in the frame, and an 11-3 run put the Huskies up 41-26 at half before things really got out of hand in the second. Bueckers would finish the game with five boards, four assists and three steals to go along with her 20 points.
The third quarter belonged to UConn’s frontcourt, as Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Edwards combined to outscore the Orange 17-9 in the frame. Nelson-Ododa in particular exploded for a 13-point quarter to open up the Huskies’ lead and would finish third on the team in scoring with 17 to go along with eight rebounds, a block and holding Syracuse’s Cardoso to just two points after her eight-point opening quarter.
Nelson-Ododa said the changes the team made in the third quarter made all the difference in this game.
“We came out with a different mentality,” Nelson-Ododa said. “Kind of more foot on the pedal, just keep going, keep attacking. I think that was pretty evident when you were watching, just sticking to our plan on defense and then executing on offense.”
The fourth quarter brought more of the same with UConn continuing to pile on their lead as Aubrey Griffin (9) and Christyn Williams (11) also making contributions in the scoring column, and by the time all was said and done, the Huskies walked away with a 83-47 win.
Next up for UConn is the long-awaited matchup between Bueckers and Caitlin Clark, as the Huskies prep to take on No. 5 Iowa in the Sweet 16 this weekend.