Playing with precision on offense as well as smothering defense, No. 1-ranked Connecticut made quick work of the Tulane Green Wave in an American Athletic Conference game on Wednesday night at Fogelman Arena.
In a display of overwhelming talent, size, depth and experience, UConn rolled past yet another foe, wiping out the Wave 96-38. It was UConn’s 58th consecutive victory and 105th in 106 games. Stewart, who scored 14 of her game-high 20 points in the first quarter, led six Hukies in double figures.
“There was a huge gap in the middle of (Tulane’s) zone, and she found it early and she found it often,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “When Stewie can get the ball in that area, she’s about impossible to stop.”
The loss was the third in 13 home games for Tulane (15-7, 6-4), all coming against top-tier AAC teams. The Green Wave will play at Houston on Saturday and at South Florida on Mardi Gras night.
Defense again was the key Connecticut (21-0, 11-0), which switched to a more aggressive defense last month. The Huskies forced 26 turnovers and scored 41 points off them. The Huskies outscored the Wave 54-8 in the lane.
“(Point guard) Moriah Jefferson does a great job defensively, and when a team has one primary ball-handler like they do, she’s really effective,” Auriemma said. “We’ve been playing this way for six games now, and it’s going well.”
From the start, the length and quickness of the Huskies was a problem for the Wave. With three players in the starting lineup taller than 5-foot-11 Tulane center Chinwe Duru, making simple passes was a challenge for the Green Wave.
When the Huskies weren’t aggressively in the passing lanes getting steals and disrupting Tulane’s offensive flow, they were tipping the ball out of the hands of the Wave’s post players.
With its 1-3-1 press and man-to-man half court defenses in full effect, Connecticut jumped to a double-digit lead, 12-2, three minutes, 15 seconds into the game. By the time the first quarter was done, the Huskies had gone on a 24-6 run in taking a 30-8 lead.
During a 43-second spurt that ended with 1:29 left in the half, Stewart, the Most Outstanding Player of the past three Final Fours, had three consecutive three-point plays. She had 18 points in the half, going 6-of-6 from the field and 6-of-6 on free throws.
In the first quarter alone, Tulane had 11 turnovers, with UConn getting seven steals. The Wave was able to get just nine shots, making three.
With UConn substitutes Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier and Saniya Chong seemingly as good, certainly as effective, as the players they replaced, the second quarter was much of the same. Tulane ended the half trailing 63-30 after turning the ball over 18 times. Connecticut had scored more points in the lane — 36 — than the Wave totalled.
After shaking off the initial shock, the Wave showed increased fight in the second. Leslie Vorpahl hit a 3 at 7:39 that put Tulane in double figures at 39-11, then Tierra Jones made a spinning shot in the lane for the Wave’s first consecutive baskets of the game. Then, Kolby Morgan sank a jump shot.
However, that just made the score 42-15 and apparently made the Huskies a little perturbed. They quickly went on a 15-1 run to lead 57-16 at the 2:40 mark.
In the game’s final 51 seconds, reserve point guard Shakira Harding sank back-to-back 3-pointers, saving the Wave the indignity of the largest losing margin against Connecticut this season. It beat Tulsa by 64 points on Jan. 27.