The northeastern United States may be in the middle of another major snowstorm, but it wasn't enough to stop the #2 UConn Huskies from hosting a sellout crowd against the #1 South Carolina Gamecocks. And despite the fact that the Huskies may not be playing in a "top-tier" conference per se, they left no doubt as to who the real #1 team in the nation right now is, as UConn blew out South Carolina, 87-62 on Monday night.
The key run came from 12:18 to 10:04 in the first half when UConn went on an 11-0 run to turn around a close 18-15 deficit into a 26-18 lead that was on the verge of blowing the game wide apart when Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made a three pointer that forced a Gamecocks timeout. From that point on, UConn never let their foot off the gas, even though South Carolina turned a 47-31 first half deficit to a closer 47 to 37 game to start off the second half. Even when South Carolina tried to make a run, the Huskies still kept finding ways to break the Gamecocks' will and ensure that this was a comfortable victory.
Here are three things we learned from this game:
1. UConn forced South Carolina to a ton of turnovers to push the pace and ran the Gamecocks out of Gampel.
The Huskies won the field goal percentage battle, where they made 55.4% of their shots while the Gamecocks just made 39.4% of theirs. But turnovers were another big story as UConn forced South Carolina to 17 of them for the night.
South Carolina came into this game, hoping to control the tempo, given that they have had several low-scoring wins in conference play like a 58-35 win over Georgia last Thursday, or a 51-50 win over Duke back in December. Instead, we saw UConn push the pace at will for pretty much the entire game.
2. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis knows how to rise to the occasion.
I'll admit that I haven't don't know exactly what to make of Mosqueda-Lewis, when it comes to her as a potential Top-3 or even as a potential #1 pick for the Seattle Storm later this spring. Tonight she had a signature showing, as she scored 23 points to lead all scorers, and drained five of her six three point shots. It wasn't just the quantity or the efficiency of her long range shooting, but even the timing when South Carolina tried to make a run to make this a contest.
Mosqueda-Lewis' most notable threes just happened to be at critical points. Her first three was the shot that forced South Carolina to call a timeout when the score was 26-18 though it seemed to be a bigger lead than that. Her next three with 5:12 left in the first half prompted another South Carolina timeout when the score was 36-20, and firmly in blowout territory.
It didn't stop there, as Mosqueda-Lewis made more threes to make sure that the Gamecocks wouldn't come back in the second half, She made one three with 14:52 left to make the score 56-39, and another with 11:08 to make the score 64-47. Her last three toward the end of the game was just gravy.
On defense, Mosqueda-Lewis' lateral movement leaves a lot to be desired, and she's likely going to be a liability on the defensive end in one-on-one situations this summer in the WNBA. But to her credit, she also grabbed four steals and dished four assists in this game for an all-around star performance.
Regardless of whatever WNBA team she plays on, Mosqueda-Lewis should be a pretty intriguing prospect for a team that needs additional long range shooting. But hopefully that team also has some strong perimeter defenders around her as well so she can be played toward her strengths.
3. Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck regain their intensity after being benched last Saturday against Memphis.
The Huskies' last game was against AAC foe Memphis, where they won 80-34 last Saturday. They did so without Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, who didn't start the game the way Geno Auriemma wanted, so he benched them five minutes into the game and never returned. After the game, he had some harsh words for them, saying that "You either live up to the standards that have been set here at Connecticut or you don't play. This is the world we live in, so they better grow up."
Tonight, Stewart and Tuck got the message. Stewart scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and blocked 5 shots tonight. She also wasn't afraid of contact this game and was noticeably aggressive for this matchup. Tuck added 17 points and grabbed 6 rebounds as well after going scoreless during the Memphis game.