Two-time defending national champion Connecticut put on its usual show in its first visit to Devlin Fieldhouse, but nothing that happened Monday night will be as significant for the Tulane women’s basketball team as its result this Saturday at Tulsa.
All 1,900 fans in the building knew what the outcome would be against the virtually unbeatable Huskies, who won for the 73rd time in their last 74 games, 94-47. Less clear is whether Tulane (20-7, 11-6 American) will get its first NCAA tournament at-large berth since 2003, with most projections putting the Green Wave right on the bubble before the beatdown Monday.
For all the excitement about the arrival of UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his traveling band of all-stars, Tulane coach Lisa Stockton understood that beating Tulsa in the regular-season finale could make or break the Wave’s tourney hopes.
“Our goals to make the NCAA tournament are still right there,” Stockton said. “We’ve gotta make sure that we stay focused and play as aggressively as we did tonight.”
When Tulane lost 87-39 at UConn on Feb. 14, it appeared to let the lopsided defeat linger the next time it played, falling to Temple 69-58 three day later. The Wave likely cannot afford another loss entering the AAC tournament, so the key will be flushing the latest blowout as quickly as possible.
“Maybe there was a lack of focus and maybe we took Temple for granted (after the first UConn loss),” Tulane’s Courtnie Latham said. “This time, we know that we have to move on.”
Considering the circus-like numbers UConn puts up — its closest game in AAC play this year was a 92-58 victory over Temple — Tulane had some confidence-building moments.
The Wave became only the third AAC team the Huskies did not double up by halftime, trailing 45-25 at the break. Danielle Blagg hit two quick 3-pointers, making the 10-6 deficit at the first media timeout closer than the 10-4 deficit the Tulane men had at the first stoppage against the UConn men Sunday and giving the Wave women more momentum than they ever had in Storrs, Connecticut, when they scored 12 points in the first half.
Leslie Vorpahl and Latham followed with 3s, making the Wave 4-for-7 from long range when the Huskies were 0-for-5.
In the second half, Latham grabbed an offensive rebound and scored under the basket. A little later, Adesuwa Ebomwonyi came up with a steal and drove two-thirds of the court for a layup.
“They are way better than a lot of teams that everybody says are definitely in the NCAA tournament,” Auriemma said. “I’ll be really disappointed if anybody still thinks they are a bubble team.”
The Wave had no answer for UConn’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, or frontcourt players Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, who combined for 32 points and 18 rebounds.
They won’t face anyone like that at Tulsa, which lost 73-34 at Devlin on Jan. 20.
“I challenged our team in the locker room if we can play that focused and just that aggressive for 40 minutes against Connecticut, we’ve got to be able to do that against the other teams in the conference,” Stockton said.