Senior Night. Smiles and tears. Memories and recollections. Hugs…and then a game still has to be played.
Such was the case when the Connecticut Huskies took the court at Gampel Pavilion last night, taking on a Syracuse team that had to know it was in a really bad spot for a visiting team.
Lorin Dixon and Maya Moore celebrated their careers in the way they know best, a convincing Big East win, and another Big East regular season championship celebration. Dixon received the senior start, taking the place of Bria Hartley, and really set the tempo and got things rolling for the Huskies with her pushing the ball and aggressiveness on the defensive end.
Tiffany Hayes opened the game with an open three-point jumper on an assist from Stefanie Dolson, and, following a Kayla Alexander basket for the Orange, Kelly Faris scored on a layup, Dolson fed Hayes for another three, and a Moore jumper...and it was 10-2 UConn. The Huskies never looked back, opening up a lead as large as 18-4. Syracuse turned the ball over, but really struggled with their shooting, making only 32% of their shots, and causing Syracuse Coach Quentin Hillsman to use time outs early and often. "We had 11 turnovers in the first half and I was pretty pleased with that," Hillsman said, "I don't think the turnovers were the problem, I think it was more so that we didn't make shots."
This was a good game for the Huskies on several fronts. First, they clearly got back some of the swagger lost in recent offensive struggles vs. Seton Hall and Georgetown. Moore was extremely efficient, making 11 of 13 shots, Hayes hit 4 of 7 three pointers, and Dolson, while struggling with her shot, contributed 6 assists. Second, and perhaps even more important going into the difficult schedule of the Big East Tournament, Coach Geno Auriemma was able to give extended minutes to his limited bench, with Lauren Engeln and Michala Johnson each playing more than 10 minutes. Only Moore and Dolson played more than 30 minutes. And lastly, in this, the final regular season home game, all eight players contributed, with everyone scoring, only Dixon not getting a rebound, and all but Engeln getting an assist. It was an impressive, team effort.
"I thought it was pretty interesting," said Auriemma. "We had a little different look to us. I think we got some things out of the way since Saturday and I'm glad that everybody contributed a little bit. We got pretty good games from just about everybody, and on a night like tonight when there was all that feel good stuff going on, you want it to be like that, and it was. It's what makes nights like this special, when you can play like that and enjoy it."
Both teams next look to the Big East tournament and Coach Hillsman knows what a challenge that will be: "It is an unbelievable conference, it is the best conference in the country. Before the game Geno and I talked about how we go into conference games and we beat each other up....We don't lose too many games out of our conference so the Big East is very tough."
The game was not a total loss for Syracuse, as they got solid contributions from several players, led by Iasia Hemingway's 13 points and 7 rebounds, and Erica Morrow's 11 points. Kayla Alexander is a strong presence inside, and she will be counted on for more of a contribution than she was able to provide vs. UConn.
Despite having only six regular contributing players, they will be tough to beat.
"Their six players are better than most six players in the country," according to Hillsman, "The only that that can hurt them is if three of them get in foul trouble and that won't happen because they are too good of a defensive basketball team."
The emergence of Dixon as an important cog will certainly help.
"It's the end of my season," the senior said, "I think it's more just wanting to be there for my team and give them 100% and just coming out with more confidence than I've ever had my four years here."
As Hillsman said to end his press conference last night, "During tournament play, I think it comes down to who has the best player and Geno has the best player. When you get in to these tournament games there are going to be some close games and nobody is going to be able to stop Maya. And that is the key when you look at good basketball teams."