INDIANAPOLIS – Breanna Stewart said she wanted to win four titles in her time at UConn.
Now, after a record rout, the Huskies are one victory away from a fourth consecutive national championship fulfilling Stewart’s goal. A feat never accomplished in women’s basketball.
Morgan Tuck scored 21 points and Stewart added 16 to help UConn beat Oregon State 80-51 on Sunday night in the women’s Final Four.
“I think it sunk in when we were going back to the locker room all excited,” Stewart said. “One game left and we’re exactly in the position we want to be in. Now it’s practice tomorrow. National championship game Tuesday.”
If UConn does win on Tuesday night coach Geno Auriemma will have an 11th national championship, moving him past vaunted UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden for the most all-time.
“I don’t know what I can do to help them except keep reminding them all the time ‘This is your spot, you’ve owned this spot for the last three years’,” Auriemma said.
“Now there’s no guarantee you’re going to get it Tuesday night, but we’re not going in there Tuesday night hoping we win. Because these three (players), they’ve done more than that, it doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I don’t have to help them with that mentality.”
The 29-point victory was the biggest margin of victory in women’s Final Four history, surpassing the 28-point win by Tennessee over Arkansas in 1998. It was UConn’s 74th consecutive victory, the second-longest winning streak in NCAA and school history.
Stewart wasn’t much of a factor for the Huskies in the opening 20 minutes. The three-time AP player of the year picked up two quick fouls and didn’t score her first points until she hit a turnaround jumper with three minutes left in the half. That basket came in the middle of a 15-2 run to close the opening 20 minutes.
She quashed any thoughts of an Oregon State rally, scoring 14 points in the second half for UConn (37-0). Just as they had done in the previous 73 games, the Huskies won by double digits.
UConn’s opponent in the championship game will have a very tall task in front of them to stop UConn’s historic run. The Huskies have never lost in an NCAA title game.
Tuck was a big reason why UConn was able to build its big lead. Oregon State had 6-foot-6 center Ruth Hamblin guarding her for most of the first half. The Beavers’ center was playing off her, daring Tuck to shoot from the outside. She had 10 of the Huskies first 15 points as UConn jumped out to a 15-6 advantage.
UConn led 32-24 after Jamie Weisner hit a 3-pointer with 5:33 left in the half. Then the Huskies took over.
About the only negative for UConn was that freshman Katie Lou Samuelson broke the third metatarsal bone in her left foot in the first half. She missed practice Saturday because she was feeling under the weather. She started on Sunday, scoring seven points in the first half in 17 minutes. She didn’t come out of the locker room for the start of the second half, returning to the UConn bench early in the third quarter with a boot on her foot.
“I guess it happened on the very first possession we had when she drove it to the basket,” Auriemma said. “She said she felt something and didn’t really say anything. She continued to play on it.”
Oregon State’s season came to an end. The Beavers won their first conference tournament title, and reached the Final Four for the first time. Not bad for a program that was in disarray six years ago.
Then coach Scott Rueck came in and the Beavers have been on the rise since.
“Hats off to UConn. They played a phenomenal game tonight,” Rueck said.
“I thought they obviously shot the ball extremely well. With a team like that, you’ve got to kind of pick your poison. And that team made us pay, no matter what we did. And that’s why they are who they are. You know, offensively they really made us work and kept us off balance. And credit them.”
Sydney Wiese scored 13 points to lead Oregon State (32-5). Hamblin finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. She left with 1:25 left, getting a hug from Rueck.
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