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Connecticut Rolls On Past Oregon State

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Morgan Tuck Too Much For Beavers

Morgan Tuck led Connecticut past Oregon State and into the National Championship game.
Morgan Tuck led Connecticut past Oregon State and into the National Championship game.
USA Today photos via SB Nation

Top ranked, unbeaten, top seeded, 3 time in a row, and 10 time overall, National Champion Connecticut (never mind the American Conference champs) was too much for Oregon State, the Pac-12 Champions, in this afternoon's first game of the Final Four of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. Much too much.

Connecticut rolled to an 80-51 win that is the largest margin of victory ever in a women's semifinal game.

And that was despite the fact that Ruth Hamblin about played Breanna Stewart, the only 3 time first team All-American ever, and the National Player of the year, to a standstill, and out-played her for much of the game.

The Beavers also controlled All-American Moriah Jefferson, holding the Huskies' point guard to jut 10 points.

Connecticut also lost Katie Lou Samuelson for the season when she suffered a broken bone in her left foot late in the first half, on the play below.

Katie Lou Samuelson

But UConn's third member of their big 3, which are potentially going to be the first 3 picks in the upcoming WNBA draft, came through with a career game, including a career high 4 3 pointers.

Tuck had 13 of her game high 21 points in the first quarter, including scoring 8 in a row for the Huskies to start a 16-4 run to open a 24-8 early lead.

This came after Stewart picked up 2 fouls in the first 2:05 of the game, on her way to only 2 points in the first half.

"That's what makes them who they are," Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said.

"The rest of us had to step up," Tuck added, referring to Stewart being stymied early.

3 pointers by Sydney Wiese and Katie McWilliams, and then 3 free throws when Samuelson fouled Wiese firing up another 3 ball with .4 seconds left produced a 9-2 run that pulled Oregon State back within 26-17 at the end of the first quater.

But the Husky defense was using the same formula that the got the Beavers to the Final Four, repeatedly frustrating Oregon State's attempts to get the ball in to Hamblin, and forcing the Beavers into difficult shots that weren't ones they wanted, deep into the shot clock.

As a result, Oregon State only scored 9 points in the second quarter, and got only 1 Jamie Weisner basket in the last 4 1/2 minutes before the break.

At the same time, Connecticut kept the ball movement going on the offensive end, and got several wide open looks at 3 pointers, making 5 of them in the first half, and several other wide open mid-range jumpers.

The result was a 15-2 UConn run at the end of the 2nd quarter, and a 47-26 lead at the break.

The 47 points were only 6 shy of what Oregon State allowed on average in a game all season, but it was the Connecticut defense, which limited the Beavers to 26 first half points that was really the differentiator.

Breanna Stewart Marie Gulich

Stewart, above battling Marie Gulich, got going somewhat after the break, but also picked up her 3rd personal a minute and a half into the 3rd quarter, and the Huskies only extended their lead by 2 in the period.

However, another UConn run was coming, and the last hope of the Beavers making this one close went away with an 11-2 run to the mid-4th-quarter media timeout, and all that was left were curtain calls for the big 3 of seniors for both teams that got both teams to this point.

"I think they just hit shots, and we couldn't make anything. And sometimes that happens in the game," Sydney Wiess said. "You never want them to gain momentum, but, yeah, they kept hitting shots."

Morgan Tuck Gabriella Hanson Sydney Wiese

Tuck, above splitting Gabriella Hanson and Sydney Wiese, after eluding Ruth Hamblin, finished with a game high 21 points.

"Every big game we play, Tuck plays great," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "It's just something about her makeup."

"I thought we could have done a little better job of showing a little bit more at Tuck than we did certainly," Rueck added, "but you also hope maybe she misses one."

Oregon State was led by Wiese, with 13 points, and 5 rebounds from her point guard position.

The battle of the post players didn't go badly at all for Oregon State. Stewart did finish with 16 points, and 8 rebounds, but Hamblin had her 13th double double of the year, with 10 points and a game high 11 rebounds.

Ruth Hamblin Gabby Williams

The "Canadian Hammer", the 2 time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, also blocked 6 shots, including one by Gabby Williams, above.

"It was really tough, really tricky (against the Oregon State defense)," Stewart said. "You want to be aggressive, but they were just tough."

But Hamblin also missed multiple "bunnies", short layins and putbacks, as a problem she struggled with at times in her career also resurfaced.

Jamie Weisner

Worse, for Oregon State, Jamie Weisner, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, above, was held to just 9 points. The same total Katie McWilliams, who hit all 3 3s she took, all from the left corner, posted.

Weisner missed 11 shots, including 4 from 3 point range, and while the relentless Husky defense was a factor, several were open looks Weisner typically connects on more often than not.

That was impossible for the Beavers to overcome given the way the Huskies shot. UConn shot 57% from the floor, including 53% from 3 point range. This against the Oregon State defense that is the best in the nation in limiting opponents' shooting percentage.

Meanwhile, Oregon State shot only 33%, and just 32% on 3s.

"Defensively, we were great," Auriemma felt. "They are not easy to guard. We couldn't match their length or size, but they couldn't match our quickness."

"It was their D(efense)," Rueck agreed. "It was going to be hard to score, and then they turned us over.

Hats off to UConn. They played a phenomenal game tonight."

Oregon State suffered 18 turnovers, 8 on UConn steals, while the Beavers only got 5 steals, and the Huskies only turned the ball over 10 times.

"They can hit from everywhere," Weisner said. "People come in off the bench and there's no lag. They expose every weakness, and make you pay for it, force you into things you don't want to do. And then offensively, they have weapons everywhere, every position."

The result was Connecticut's 74th win in a row, and 23 consecutive in the NCAA Tournament play, and a trip to Tuesday night's championship game, where a win would equal UCLA's men's record of 11 total NCAA titles, which would also allow Auriemma to surpass John Wooden's record of 10 titles as a coach. It would also be the 6th perfect season for the UConn program, which will go into the game 37-0, having won 120 of their last 121 games, all by double digit margins.

It was still the best season in Oregon State history though, as the Beavers made their first ever trip to the Final Four, after winning both the Pac-12 regular season and Tournament championships, and finishing 32-5.

For the departing seniors who played for 4 years, Weisner, Hamblin, Deven Hunter, and Samantha Siegner, it capped a career that started with a 10-21 season, before 24 and 27 win campaigns that led up to this season.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com