Women’s Basketball: UConn’s Final Four streak broken by Buckeyes in Sweet 16 behind 25 turnovers

UConn guard Caroline Ducharme (33) holds onto the ball as Ohio State’s Cotie McMahon (32) and Taylor Thierry (2) attempt to steal possession during the second quarter of a Sweet 16 college basketball game of the NCAA Tournament in Seattle, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)

In each of the previous 14 NCAA Tournaments, the UConn women’s basketball team reached the Final Four, posting a 7-7 record in the national semifinals with six championships. Against the third-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sweet 16, their 29th straight year where they played in the second weekend, that streak came to a screeching halt in a 73-61 defeat in Seattle.

UConn’s defense kept them close for most of the contest, forcing 14 turnovers on 11 steals, but their offense struggled against the Buckeyes’ press defense. That defensive scheme forced 25 turnovers against the Huskies, 18 of which came in the first half, as Ohio State scored 23 points off them. Despite shooting 45% from the field with six threes, Connecticut struggled to get free points at the charity stripe, shooting 7-15 on free throw attempts.

“Ohio State just outplayed us,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after the game. “It is unfortunate that we chose tonight to play the way we did.”

Dorka Juhasz began her collegiate career with the Buckeyes, averaging 13 points and 9.6 rebounds in 75 games while earning an all-conference selection in each of her three seasons in Columbus. With 13 points and 10 boards in UConn’s finale, the graduate forward finishes the season with 15 double-doubles. During her time in Storrs, Juhasz earned an All-Big East Second Team selection and All-Tournament Team honors, both of which came in 2023.

“Getting through what we went through obviously these past two years, it is definitely going to be a lot of positive feelings,” Juhasz said.

The loss also marked the final game of Lou Lopez Senechal’s collegiate career, who scored in double figures all but five times as a Husky. Like she did during her four-year tenure at Fairfield University, where she won MAAC Player of the Year last season, the graduate guard led the offense with 25 points on 9-13 shooting with four triples. At UConn, Lopez Senechal earned All-Big East First Team selection honors and also made the All-Tournament Team.

“I really could say a lot about this team and what we have done this year,” Lopez Senechal commented. “I would not have done it with anyone else.”

Connecticut started the game playing like the team that blew out their opponents in the first weekend in Storrs, opening the game on a 10-2 run behind two threes and five points from Lopez Senechal. Ebony Walker drew first blood with a driving layup during that opening stretch, but the timeout served as a wake-up call for Ohio State as their offense laid the foundation for their potent press defense. UConn still had answers offensively as Juhasz made two layups and Lopez Senechal buried another three, giving her eight points in the opening frame. But as the Buckeyes exerted more pressure with their defensive scheme by forcing eight turnovers in the frame, the floodgates opened for them to have momentum at the end of the first quarter with a 6-0 run.

That hot stretch carried over into the second, where Ohio State grabbed the lead on a three from Cotie McMahon, who finished with 13 points in the frame and 18 at halftime. Not even a Huskies’ timeout stopped the bleeding as the Buckeyes continued forcing turnovers and making buckets en route to a 17-0 run. Azzi Fudd ended Ohio State’s game-changing stretch by converting the team’s first field goal attempt of the period, but by that point, Connecticut had already committed 16 turnovers.

UConn cut the lead to seven with a free throw and a 3-pointer, but two free throws from Jacy Sheldon gave the Buckeyes a nearly insurmountable 13-point advantage. The Huskies carried momentum between halves as Nika Muhl and Caroline Ducharme got on the board to end the first half, and Lopez Senechal started the third quarter with a driving layup. The call and response pattern continued throughout the frame, but despite cutting the deficit down to five at one point, Ohio State’s defense prevented Connecticut from making it a one possession game.

Even though McMahon picked up her fourth foul late in the third, Rikki Harris scored seven straight points for the Buckeyes as their offense stayed one step ahead. Harris gave Ohio State an 18-point lead with seven minutes and change, but UConn started to fight back in the hopes of keeping their postseason streaks alive. Behind two Juhasz layups, the Huskies went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit into single digits. Although Connecticut kept answering with buckets of their own, it proved to be too little too late as neither team scored in the last 100 seconds and the Buckeyes advanced to their first Elite Eight since 1993.

McMahon had one of the best games of her young collegiate career, scoring 23 points with two threes, two assists and five boards. Sheldon shot a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe, finishing with 17 points and seven boards while Taylor Thierry dropped 11. Dominating in almost every statistical category, Ohio State played its best game since coming back against the Indiana Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Fudd provided a spark when the offense needed it throughout the game, finishing with 14 points and two triples in 37 minutes. Edwards played just 17 minutes due to foul trouble, finishing with four points and seven rebounds while Muhl scored three points and the bench combined for two. UConn outrebounded the Buckeyes 38-34 despite getting outrebounded 11-9 on the offensive end while collecting 15 assists.

“It is very difficult to do,” Auriemma said about winning in March and the postseason streaks his team, who finished the season at 31-6, previously possessed. “So you appreciate what we had, what we did, and you have to start another one next year.”

Ohio State, meanwhile, takes on the No. 1-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the Elite Eight on Monday, March 27.

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