March 5, 2012
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - After putting together consecutive strong efforts in the Big East tournament, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma thinks his team may have its swagger back.
Stefanie Dolson scored 23 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 22 to help fourth-ranked Connecticut rout No. 13 St. John's 74-43 on Monday night in the semifinals. The win was the 799th of Auriemma's Hall of Fame career.
The Huskies will play No. 3 Notre Dame in the championship game Tuesday night. The Irish routed West Virginia 73-45 in the first semifinal.
"It's been a while since we've had an opportunity to be the team that we think we are," Auriemma said. "We'll know more after tomorrow night. We're playing one of the top two teams in the country tomorrow night. I think the challenge ahead of us is much greater than last night or tonight."
The teams have met five times in the title game and UConn has come out on top each time.
UConn is one victory away from continuing its 18-year run of winning either the Big East regular season or tournament title. The last time the Huskies were a three seed in 2005, they won the tournament crown.
To keep that streak alive, they will have to figure out a way to beat the Irish, who have a rare three-game losing streak against Notre Dame. The Irish beat them in the national semifinals last season before sweeping them this year en route to their first outright Big East title.
"The best team in our league is Notre Dame. They've proven it since Day 1," Auriemma said. "We're the next best team in the league. We're the two teams that shold be playing in the championship game tommorrow."
Connecticut (28-4) gained a measure of revenge on the Red Storm (22-9) on Monday night. St. John's ended UConn's 99-game home winning streak when the two teams played on Feb. 18. The Huskies then lost a second straight home game, falling to Notre Dame last Monday night ending a 19-year run of not losing consecutive home games. UConn also was at a loss that game as far as what went wrong.
"I think we've just come out with the right mindset and executed on offense and played great defense," Dolson said. "We've come out with the mindset of being aggressive, confident with ourselves and our shots and we've done a great job with it and hopefully we'll keep it up."
UConn jumped all over St. John's, scoring the game's first seven points. The Red Storm got within 13-8, but then the Huskies quickly erased any hopes of a second victory in Connecticut for St. John's by outscoring them 23-6 run over the next 10 minutes. Dolson and Bria Hartley combined for 13 points during the burst.
The Huskies led 38-18 at the half and Dolson extended the advantage to 24, scoring the first six points of the second half. She only had six points in the earlier meeting between the teams.
"I came out with the right mindset tonight," Dolson said. "I give credit to my teammates who were able to pass me the ball today perfectly."
After Dolson's two free throws made it 42-18 and St. John's couldn't get any closer the rest of the way.
Nadirah McKenith scored 10 points to lead St. John's, which shot just 30 percent from the field.
Despite the loss, it was a breakthrough season for the Red Storm. They won 14 of their previous 16 games under Big East coach of the year Kim Barnes Arico.
"I thought Connecticut played really well tonight," Barnes Arico said. "I knew it would be a difficult task for us. I thought we would have played a little better, but Connecticut did a great job because of their pressure. We played a really great team tonight a Final Four team."
The Red Storm finished second in the conference and that forced the Huskies to wear their road blue uniforms in Hartford for the first time since 2005 when they were also a three seed in the Big East tournament. Still the XL Center had a home feel for UConn, which dressed in their normal locker room and had most of the crowd of 8,731 cheering on every one of their baskets.