STORRS, Conn. >> The UConn women’s team was in an online group chat watching the UMBC men upset top-seeded Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The players assured each other that they weren’t going to let anything similar happen to them. All upset hopes ended in the first few minutes of this game as the Huskies went on to a record-setting rout.
Azura Stevens scored 26 points and 10 rebounds to lead six UConn players in double figures and the Huskies opened their NCAA Tournament with a 140-52 defeat of Saint Francis (Pa.) today.
“I don’t think (the UMBC) game put extra pressure on us, but watching a No. 1 go down kind of motivated us to kind of come out from the start to be ready to go,” Stevens said.
The women’s top seed set a record for points in a tournament game and all-time NCAA records for points in a period (55 in the first) and a half (94 in the first). And UConn’s 88-point margin of victory was the second-biggest in tournament history. Baylor beat Texas Southern by 89 in the 2017 tournament.
The previous record for points in a tournament game was 121. The previous mark for points in a half was 80 and for a quarter was 45.
“I don’t think we were really aware, said Katie Lou Samuelson, who had 18 points and 10 assists. “We were aware of how quickly we were going up and down the court at that first media timeout. But, we were just getting a lot of opportunities and taking advantage of them whenever we could.”
Kia Nurse finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Napheesa Collier had 25 points and nine assists.
UConn (33-0) shot 65 percent from the floor, 73.6 percent in the first half, and outscored the No. 16 seed 96-10 in the paint.
Haley Thomas had 12 points and Caitlyn Kroll 11 for Saint Francis, which finishes the season 24-10. Jessica Kovatch, who came in as the nation’s second leading scorer at just under 25 points per game, finished with nine, all in the second half.
Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh said his game plan was to outscore the Huskies, to run and gun, while leaving UConn’s post players open for mid-range jump shots. His team averaged nearly 81 points a game coming into today. The strategy didn’t work.
“There was only one chance that we would have had to come close in this game and that was going to be to shoot a million threes and hope that they go in,” Haigh said. “So, we shot a million 3s and we didn’t make them.”
The Red Flash attempted 57 shots from behind the arc, making just 10 of them.
Samuelson opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, the Huskies made their first nine shots. They took their first 30-point lead in the first quarter on Samuelson’s reverse layup that made it 41-10 and ended the quarter with a 55-19 lead.
Collier’s basket with more than six minutes left in the second quarter gave UConn a 68-26 lead, giving the Huskies the tournament record for points in a half. Nurse’s layup with more than three minutes remaining made it 82-28, giving them the NCAA record. UConn led 94-31 at the break.
UConn is looking for its 12th national title and fifth in six years. The Huskies haven’t lost in the opening round since 1993.