Published March 20, 2012
| Associated Press
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Geno Auriemma took a second to think about what his UConn Huskies had just accomplished.
It wasn't the NCAA tournament defensive record his top-seeded team set in a 72-26 victory over Kansas State that caught his attention. He was more interested in the fact that UConn was going to make its 19th straight trip to the round of 16.
"Up to this point there haven't been any breakdowns," Auriemma said. "We haven't found ourselves losing in the first round, or playing poorly and losing in the second round. We just won't allow ourselves to do that to this point. We haven't for two decades and it's one of the things I'm most proud of."
There was no way that streak was going to end against Kansas State as Bria Hartley and the Huskies nearly played a flawless defensive game in a record rout of Kansas State.
Hartley scored 13 of her 16 points in the first half and top-seeded UConn set a women's NCAA tournament record for fewest points allowed.
"I think it was definitely close to a perfect game — you can always do better," Hartley said. "We came out with a lot more intensity than we did last game. We used that game as motivation to play better this game."
The Huskies (31-4) limited Kansas State to 18 percent shooting and 10 field goals, contesting virtually every shot in their second-round matchup.
"Defense is what we take pride in here," said Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who added 15 points. "I feel like we have a lot of good offensive players, but it doesn't really take heart to play offense. All defense is is a lot of heart and a lot of effort and I think we put out a lot of heart and a lot of effort tonight on defense."
UConn will play the winner of Penn State and LSU in Kingston, R.I., on Sunday in the regional semifinals.
Eighth-seeded Kansas State (20-14) was trying to make it that far for the first time since 2002. But the Wildcats were no match for the Huskies, unable to surpass the 27 points that Southern scored against Duke in 2006, the previous record.
"When you play a great team and compete as ineptly as we did tonight, you end up on the bad side of a big deficit," Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said. "I'm proud of the team for our season, disappointed in the end result."
Brittany Chambers scored 11 points to lead the Wildcats, who went 11 minutes in the first half without a point.
After taking a 3-2 lead 34 seconds in, the Wildcats missed 18 straight shots over the next 11:17. By the time Jalana Childs put back a miss, they trailed 19-5 with 8:09 left. They could never recover.
"Our defensive effort tonight was about as good I've seen from us all year long," Auriemma said. "There really were very few open looks that we gave up and I think our pressure has been as good as it's been any time all year."
Even when Kansas State did something right, it went wrong. Twice the Wildcats had steals at midcourt that would have led to easy layups, but UConn was whistled for fouls. Both times Kansas State took the ball out on the side and was unable to convert the turnovers into baskets.
A pull-up jumper from the free throw line by Chambers just before halftime helped Kansas State avoid tying Prairie View for the lowest-scoring first half in the history of the NCAA tournament. The 16th-seeded Lady Panthers did that last season against Brittney Griner and top-seeded Baylor.
UConn, which leads the nation in scoring defense at just under 46 points a game and field goal percentage defense (30.0), was converting Kansas State's misses into easy baskets.
Hartley outscored the Wildcats in the first half. Mosqueda-Lewis, who matched the UConn record with 21 points in her NCAA debut, fell just five short of the school's two-game mark held by Maya Moore.
The Huskies led 38-10 at halftime, as the Wildcats missed 27 of their 31 shots.
It didn't get much better in the second half for Kansas State. UConn built its lead up to 46. The only question in the last few minutes was whether the Wildcats would avoid the mark for futility set by Southern.
A basket by Emma Ostermann with 2:59 left gave Kansas State 26 points, but that was the last points that the Wildcats would score.
It was the 17th time this season that the Huskies held an opponent under 40 points.
The Wildcats survived a tough test from Princeton in the opening round Saturday, beating the Tigers 67-64. Kansas State was playing the Huskies for the first time despite being in UConn's region of the NCAAs five times in the last 11 years.
Before the game, Patterson said she was impressed by UConn's defense after watching it against Prairie View in the opener. The Huskies held the Lady Panthers to just 15 points in the second half of that 83-47 victory. They continued that stellar effort against the Wildcats.
"To be honest, all year long watching them on television and film prior to this game, they've been my pick to win it all," Patterson said. "I really never pick against Connecticut. They're as versatile as you would have thought when they're shooting as well as they are on the perimeter."
With the first-round win against the Lady Panthers, UConn surpassed the 30-victory mark for the seventh straight season, matching the Division I record set by Duke from 2001-07.
"We talked about the 30 wins and how important that is to them," Auriemma said. "Going to regionals again, how rewarding it should feel for them. Those are things that sometimes people take for granted. We don't want to do that. I'm happy for this group. I'm really happy for this group."
Doug Feinberg can be reached at www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg