Paige Bueckers scored 20 points and Aaliyah Edwards added 19 to help No. 1 seed UConn beat eighth-seeded Syracuse 83-47 on Tuesday night and advance to the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Once again the Huskies were missing coach Geno Auriemma, who is recovering from COVID-19. Chris Dailey filled in for the Hall of Fame coach, who celebrated his 67th birthday on Tuesday and could potentially rejoin the team this weekend for its next game.
The UConn players sang “Happy Birthday” to Auriemma earlier Tuesday in a video posted on Twitter. They also gave him a present by again showing how well they could play without him.
The Huskies (26-1) got off to a slow start, a bit flummoxed by Syracuse’s zone defense.
With the game tied 8-8, Christyn Williams banked in a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock expired and then Bueckers scored off a steal to give the Huskies a five-point lead. They led 19-14 after one quarter and slowly pulled away from the Orange (15-9) to a 15-point halftime lead.
Bueckers, the freshman All-America guard, had 16 points in the half.
In the second half, the Huskies tore the zone apart with precision passing that led to easy layups. While Bueckers wasn’t scoring as much in the second half, she was passing the ball. She had a nifty no-look pass for a layup and foul, pumping her fist in celebration.
The Huskies led 64-35 after three quarters and cruised into the Sweet 16 for the 27th straight year.
Syracuse was led by its own talented freshman in 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso. She had 12 points and seven rebounds.
The loss ended the stellar career of Syracuse guard Tiana Mangakahia, who returned from breast cancer this season. She finished as the Orange’s all-time assist leader and one of the best players in school history.
She finished the game with seven points.
UConn freshman Nika Muhl missed the game after spraining her right ankle in the opening-round win over High Point. She was in a walking boot.
This was the 52nd meeting between the schools. The former Big East foes have also played each other in three of the past five NCAA Tournaments. The Huskies ended the Orange’s season in 2016, 2017 and now 2021. The 2016 matchup was for the national championship. The Huskies hold a 40-12 lead in the series with Syracuse’s last win coming in 1996.
UConn will face Iowa in a Sweet 16 matchup of two of the country’s best freshmen: Bueckers and Caitlin Clark.