ALBANY, N.Y. – Geno Auriemma and the UConn Huskies are in a familiar place – the Elite Eight.
Napheesa Collier had 16 points and 11 rebounds to help top-seed UConn beat Duke 72-59 on Saturday and advance to the regional finals for the 13th consecutive season.
The Huskies’ senior duo of Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse was key on the defensive end to help UConn to the win.
“We’re fortunate that our two seniors are two of the better defensive players in the country,” Auriemma said. “We can count on those two every game. Gabby’s going to play great every game. She plays at a certain level every game. Kia’s one of the toughest competitors we’ve had at Connecticut.”
UConn (35-0) will face defending national champion South Carolina on Monday night to try and advance to a record 11th straight Final Four.
“Last time we played them we got out to an early run so I don’t think any of us are expecting it to be easy (Monday),” said Williams, who had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists. “A’ja (Wilson) doesn’t want her college career to be over on Monday. We know they are going to put up a fight and it will be a battle.”
The Huskies scored the first seven points of the game beginning with a banked-in 3-pointer from Nurse and they were off and running.
Duke had only given up an average of 49 points in its first two games of the tournament. UConn had that by the end of the third quarter, much to the delight of the partisan crowd of 10,658 that took in the Albany Regional.
Fifth-seed Duke (24-9) was only down seven early in the second quarter when the Blue Devils went cold from the field, going scoreless over the next 5 1/2 minutes. UConn extended its advantage to 30-16.
The Blue Devils cut their deficit to 12, but UConn scored the final eight points of the half, including a pullup by Williams just before the halftime buzzer to give UConn a 40-20 lead.
Duke closed its gap to 44-31 midway through the third quarter, but didn’t score for the rest of the period and UConn rebuilt the 20-point advantage.
“You’ve got to be prepared for the whole 40 minutes,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “UConn is good at responding to that. You’ve got to keep going and have immediacy and smarts. … We did in circumstances, but we couldn’t get it across the board. They have too much experience not to, especially with Gabby and Nurse, they have too much experience.”
The game also featured Huskies center Azura Stevens going against her former team. She transferred to UConn after her sophomore season. Stevens had eight points and 12 rebounds.
“I was trying to approach it just like any other game because that’s what you’re trying to do,” Stevens said. “You just gotta stay focused on winning the game ahead of you. It was made into a bigger deal than it needed to be, so I’m kind of glad that we got the win, it was a solid win, and we’ll look at the film tomorrow, learn from it, and move on to the next.”
Duke was led by sophomore Leaonna Odom, who has been dominant in the tournament, averaging 20.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field in wins over Belmont and Georgia. She had 22 on Saturday. The loss ended the stellar careers of Duke guards Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown. The pair came into the game averaging a combined 33.9 points this season which was third best among Power Five schools. They only had 16 combined against UConn.
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