By COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
CINCINNATI (AP) _ UConn coach Geno Auriemma stressed to his team the last few days that the top-ranked Huskies needed to focus on defense.
Connecticut put on a defensive clinic against Cincinnati on Saturday, beating the Bearcats 86-29. UConn forced 24 turnovers, and Cincinnati’s 29 points were the fewest the Huskies have allowed all season.
“Coach just emphasized the past three days that we need to play better defense and keep people in front of us and I think we took that to heart today,” said Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who led UConn with 17 points. “We clogged up the lane, we took into account the scouting report Coach gave us on who were shooters and who weren’t shooters and we implemented it into the game.”
During an early 22-0 run, Connecticut held Cincinnati (9-12, 2-8) scoreless for 11 minutes and 22 seconds. In that span, the Bearcats missed 11 shots and turned the ball over nine times. The Bearcats broke their scoreless streak with 45 seconds left in the half as Connecticut headed into halftime up 41-11. Cincinnati ended the first half with just five field goals and 15 turnovers in their lowest-scoring half of the season.
“UConn is UConn _ they’re an unbelievable defensive team, they’re going to pressure you, you’re going to make you play fast, they’re going to trap you, and that’s not the first time we’ve had trouble playing against them,” Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott said.
Bria Hartley also scored 17 points and had a career-high six steals for the Huskies (23-0, 10-0 American Athletic Conference), who jumped out to a 41-11 halftime lead and never looked back. UConn was held to 67 points in the first meeting between the teams back on Dec. 29.
“I think our approach was a lot different from last time,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We didn’t come out like, `All right, we’re playing Cincinnati, or, `Let’s get the game over with.’ We came out with intensity, we had a purpose, we wanted to make sure we came out strong and we finished the game that way.”
Cincinnati, missing leading scorer Dayeesha Hollins for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury, took a 5-3 lead two minutes into the game before Connecticut took over for good. The Bearcats pulled within three before the Huskies went on a 22-0 run to break the game open.
The win was the Huskies’ 10th straight over Cincinnati and extended their current win streak to 29 games. Cincinnati has now lost two straight, and the Bearcats are 2-7 since their last meeting against Connecticut.
The Huskies’ quick passes and a balanced shooting attack kept the Bearcats defense off balance as Connecticut had 25 assists, keeping the team on pace to break the program season record. Six Huskies got on the board before halftime and five finished in double figures.
“That’s one of the few recent times that five players on the floor can score pretty easily,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “We’re not trying to force a basket , we’re not trying to make something happen that isn’t there, we’re not having to pass 12 times before we get a shot. Generally speaking, we get a good shot. So that takes away all the possible turnovers.”
Connecticut started the second half with another 10-2 run and led by as much as 58 points in the second half. The Huskies surpassed their point total from their last meeting against Cincinnati with nearly 10 minutes still left in the game, with Jefferson and Hartley on the bench.
Cincinnati’s Jeanise Randolph, Jasmine Whitfield and Alyesha Lovett led the Bearcats with eight points each.
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