Maya Moore scored a season-low six points on 2-for-12 shooting against Georgetown in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. A day later, she made three of her first four shots, scoring seven points within the first four minutes of the semifinal game against Rutgers.
That was just a preview of what was to come. By the time the Big East Player of the Year took a seat on the bench with eight minutes to go against the Scarlet Knights, Moore had racked up 22 points and the Huskies led by 24. When it was over, UConn beat Rutgers 75-51 to advance to the conference finals where they will face Notre Dame Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The victory was the Huskies' 68th in a row in the conference, and their last loss came four years ago against Rutgers in the Big East Championship.
There would be no upsets this time around.
Coach Geno Auriemma, forever cautious of UConn's next opponent, warned after the quarterfinals win over the Hoyas that "Defensively, [Rutgers] as good as anybody. … [T]hey control the tempo of the game … and we're going to have to make sure we stay out of foul trouble."
UConn had little trouble breaking down Rutgers' defense. The Huskies faced a lot of zone -- both 2-3 and 1-3-1 -- in an effort to neutralize Moore and freshman center, Stefanie Dolson, fresh off a career-high 24-point effort. Not a problem; the Huskies converted 6 of 12 three-pointers in the first half and led 39-20 at the break.
Also not an issue: foul trouble. The Huskies were called for just six of them all game and, it turns out, that was by design.
"We tried really hard not to foul," Auriemma admitted. "Play good position defense, make them shoot over us and then Lorin Dixon did a great job of trapping the post in the first half. About everything you want to do, we did in that whole first half … I'm kind of feeling like I don't have anything to complain about."
Holding Rutgers to 37.5 percent shooting will do that to a coach. UConn's offensive performance shouldn't overshadow what they were able to accomplish on the defensive end.
"Our defense has been really good and it gave us an opportunity to get out in transition," Auriemma said after the game. "And Maya did a much better job of moving without the ball tonight than she did [against Georgetown]. And we just played really well as a team, I thought it was a really good effort by everybody."
Moore, when asked about UConn having 23 assists on 25 baskets, added: "That is exactly how we practice, that is exactly how we play. Whenever we can see high numbers like that with assists and the number of buckets that we get, know that we played Connecticut basketball. Kelly Faris played huge for us today … I (can't) speak enough about how my teammates finished today."
That's the thing. The Huskies might rotate just six or seven players, but it doesn't mean the offense begins and ends with Moore. Dolson carried the load in the quarterfinals, and against Rutgers, as Moore mentioned, it was Kelly Faris doing the heavy lifting. The sophomore from Indiana ended the night with 19 points (one shy of her career high), four assists, three rebounds and a steal. And one play in particular stood out as a microcosm of exactly what she brings to the team.
With 17:30 to go in the second half, Faris pulled the defensive rebound, took three dribbles, threw a pass that traveled some 70 feet in the air, hit Moore in stride and she converted an easy layup. That is what Faris is all about, and why she is so valuable to the Huskies.
Next up: the Fighting Irish in the Big East championship.