After an uneven performance against Georgetown on Sunday, the Huskies looked like a championship team from tip to whistle versus Duke.
UConn led by 10 points at the break, blew Duke out of the building in a second half that included senior Maya Moore scoring her 3,000th career point. By the time it was over, the Huskies had won, 75-40.
So UConn returns to the Final Four where they will face Big East rival, Notre Dame, the same team they defeated in the conference tournament finals, 73-64, earlier this month.
Unlike the Hoyas game two days before, freshman point guard Bria Hartley looked comfortable running the offense and setting up her teammates against the Blue Devils. And freshman center Stefanie Dolson, who spent much of the second half on the bench against Georgetown (partly for match-up reasons, partly because of ineffectiveness), returned to her late-season form. Which is to say: she was a disruptive defensive presence in the paint, pulling rebounds, and affecting shots, and added 12 points on the offensive end.
The last time these two teams met, UConn won by 36 points. One of the story lines heading into this rematch was that Duke had put the first meeting behind them and were appreciative for the shot at redemption. For about 10 minutes, the Blue Devils looked like they might be up to the challenge, but turnovers and poor shot selection -- to go along with Moore's first big game of this NCAA Tournament -- doomed their chances.
If UConn set the tone on defense during the first 20 minutes, they dominated at both ends of the court in the second half.
"I just thought that when we came out [from halftime] we just had a much better idea of how we wanted to guard [Duke]," coach Geno Auriemma said on the court after the game. "I thought we did a great job in the first half -- they only scored 20. … I never thought we would have a problem defending that because we're a good defensive team. The whole point to the second half was that our offense was so much better and that's why the score is what it is."
As for why the offense didn't click until after the break, Auriemma offered a glimpse.
"The first six minutes of the game, all we did was complain to [Maya] in every timeout. 'Stop shooting jump shots, stop shooting jump shots. Why are you settling for for jump shots?' And then she just goes on a roll and starts making jump shots … You know, the best thing Maya does is not listen to me. That's the best thing I can say about her," he said.
As always, Moore was humble, even after dropping 28 points on Duke and scoring her 3,000th career point, becoming just the seventh player in NCAA history to accomplish the feat.
"[Auriemma] just wants me to be aggressive and not to settle," Moore explained when asked about her coach's comments. "Once I started to scratch the boards more, getting some put-backs and some layups, the jump shots started to fall."
During Monday's news conference Auriemma talked about this year's group being "vulnerable" compared to his previous championship teams. Maybe the coach actually meant it. Or perhaps it was a motivational ploy. Whatever, the Huskies played one of their best games of the season and now they're headed to Indianapolis, where they will face the Fighting Irish this Sunday.