UConn makes short work of Hartford
STORRS, Conn. — A nearly two-week layoff didn’t bother Connecticut.
The Huskies took to a familiar script, routing a first-round opponent in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Stefanie Dolson scored all 12 of her points in the first half to lead a balanced Connecticut offense as the top-seeded Huskies beat Hartford, 75-39, yesterday.
“We haven’t played in so long that we’re unsure what we’re going to get the first 10 to 15 minutes of the game,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We know in the first round you’re going to play someone from a talent standpoint that is going to struggle to handle some of the things that you’re going to do.’’
Maya Moore, Bria Hartley, and Tiffany Hayes added 12 points each for the Huskies (33-1), who started their journey toward a third consecutive national championship. The victory was UConn’s 21st straight and 82d in a row at home, where the Huskies are hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament and giving their local fans one more weekend to see them.
Alex Hall scored 10 points to lead Hartford (17-16), which was making its sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament.
It didn’t take very long for UConn to take control of the game, as Dolson, a 6-foot-5-inch freshman center, had her way with the smaller Hawks. Their tallest player was 6-1 and it showed in the rebounding numbers, where the Huskies had a 47-23 advantage.
Last year, Dolson was watching Connecticut’s run to a seventh national title on television. Now she’ll be a big part of a potential eighth.
“It was cool that this was my first game in the tournament and we played well out there,’’ she said. “I’m excited for the next game and the games to come in.’’
The Huskies will face ninth-seeded Purdue tomorrow night.
Connecticut hadn’t played since winning the Big East tournament title March 8 over Notre Dame, but it showed little rust with the 12-day layoff, hitting four of its first five shots to take a 10-5 lead.
UConn was up, 16-9, before turning up its stellar defense. The Huskies scored the next 12 points, sparked by senior Lorin Dixon, who had two steals and a 3-point play during the spurt. Hayes’s layup with 7:08 left in the half capped the burst and made it 28-9.
“Our transition game really sparked that,’’ Moore said. “Stefanie did a great job and our guards did a great job of getting some long outlets. Whenever we get that tempo going we start salivating because we’re going to get points.’’
Back-to-back baskets by Hall cut Hartford’s deficit to 30-14, but UConn scored 10 of the final 13 points of the half, including two foul-line jumpers by Dolson, as the lead reached 23.
The Huskies extended their spurt with 10 of the first 12 points after the break.
UConn got an added boost with the return of backup center Heather Buck. She had been sidelined for the final few weeks of the regular season with a stress reaction in her left foot. She entered with 7:23 left in the game and UConn up, 64-27. The junior got a quick putback for her only points.
The Huskies had been only suiting up eight players and their lack of depth was seen as a potential road block to an eighth national championship. It didn’t cause any problems as UConn ran through the Big East tournament, winning three games in three days.
Hartford, which is coached by former UConn star Jen Rizzotti, started out the season 1-9 before hitting its stride and winning the America East Conference tournament as the No. 4 seed.
“We wanted to win, but to win our conference championship to get here, it was an awesome ride,’’ Hartford senior Jackie Smith said.
Rizzotti was the starting point guard for Auriemma on the Huskies’ first national championship team in 1995. She received a warm ovation from the crowd in introductions, which included many Hartford fans.
“It’s not easier to lose to UConn than other teams, unless of course we lost to Tennessee,’’ said Rizzotti, laughing. “It’s not easy to lose period.’’
For the first time in seven years, the Hawks didn’t play the Huskies in the regular season. Rizzotti said Saturday that she didn’t see the series resuming next year.
The Hawks are winless in 12 tries against UConn.