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UConn easily dispatches Maryland, vies for third straight title

Maryland Terrapins forward A'Lexus Harrison (33) wipes a tear after her team loses to the UConn Huskies in the NCAA Final Four semifinals at the Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sunday, April 5, 2015.
Maryland Terrapins forward A'Lexus Harrison (33) wipes a tear after her team loses to the UConn Huskies in the NCAA Final Four semifinals at the Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sunday, April 5, 2015.
Published Apr. 6, 2015

TAMPA — At least one college basketball juggernaut remains upright today.

A night after Kentucky's men were introduced to mortality, Connecticut's women remained a sleek, sturdy model of infallibility in Sunday's national semifinals at Amalie Arena.

The Huskies got double-double flirtations from 6-foot-2 sophomore Morgan Tuck (24 points, nine rebounds) and two-time Associated Press Player of the Year Breanna Stewart (25 points, eight boards) in an 81-58 triumph against fellow No. 1 seed Maryland before an announced crowd of 19,730.

A 14-0 UConn run, spanning the end of the first half and dawn of the second, gave the two-time reigning national champs a 20-point lead that would prove insurmountable.

"We've got the kind of team that when we go on runs and some things start breaking our way, we take advantage of those situations," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And we did so again tonight."

The top-ranked Huskies (37-1) seek their third consecutive national title — and 10th overall — Tuesday night against Notre Dame (36-2) in a rematch and rubber match of sorts.

UConn, which topped the Irish by 21 in last season's title game, has played the Irish in each of the last four Final Fours, winning two.

The Irish must be poised for a breakneck pace, one Maryland initially matched Sunday before the Huskies pulled away.

Barely 3 1/2 minutes in, the teams were tied at 10-all. Eight minutes in, they had combined to go 17-for-30 from the floor. Huskies 5-foot-7 point guard Moriah Jefferson (14 points, five assists) scored nine in that span, including consecutive lane dissections for layups to give UConn an 18-12 lead.

The Huskies initially failed to pull away as Maryland sophomore guard Lexie Brown (nine first-half points) answered with dribble penetration of her own, including a layup to cut UConn's lead to 20-16. A 3-pointer by Chloe Pavlech trimmed Maryland's deficit to 22-19.

But UConn went on a 12-2 run from there, highlighted by treys from women's Division I career 3-point leader Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart on consecutive possessions.

A Brown trey put Maryland within six, 39-33, with 1:54 to go in the half, but Tuck answered with a layup and 3-pointer in a 36-second span, giving the Huskies a 44-33 lead at intermission. Maryland missed its last three shot of the half, all 3-point tries.

"They're so big in size, so if you make a mistake on the guards, you know you got the big guys to deal with," Auriemma said. "We just needed to try to make sure that we only gave up one thing, that we didn't give up both."

By the time Tuck sank a layup with 16:16 to go, UConn's 14-point spurt — led by 10 Tuck points — was complete, and UConn had a 53-33 lead.

"I just think we continued to get deflated as they went on their runs," Terrapins sophomore guard Lexie Brown said.

UConn's lead never fell below 14 again.

"I think it was kind of a statement game (for Tuck)," Stewart said.

"You could call it a statement game because whether she meant to do it or not she showed everyone that she deserved to be an All-American and she was left off the list."

Maryland, which entered on a school-record 28-game win streak, missed its first six shots after intermission and had three turnovers before its initial second-half basket, a Brionna Jones layup with 15:56 to go.

The Terrapins finished 9-for-28 after halftime, failing to reach 60 points for only the third time this season.

"Obviously we wanted to come in here and shock the world and get this win," said Terrapins guard Laurin Mincy (three points, six turnovers), Maryland's only senior. "But I'm proud of how my team competed all game and this season, and I can't wait to see what's ahead."