ALBANY, N.Y. -- A UConn masterpiece it was not. A relatively stress-free win it was. The Huskies are onto the Elite Eight with a businesslike, if not always pretty, 72-59 win over Duke in a regional semifinal game in Albany.
UConn played at times as if it knew the outcome and just needed to figure out the right sequence of steps to get there. The offense stumbled at times. Turnovers and too many missed open shots never make coach Geno Auriemma happy, and more than once, he turned his back on the court following a miscue, as if watching was the last thing he wanted to do.
By most standards, a 13-point win in the NCAA tournament over a good Duke team would be reason for euphoria. For the Huskies, it was doing their job.
Napheesa Collier led the way with 16 points, and Katie Lou Samuelson had 15, including a pair of nail-in-the coffin 3-pointers in the second half.
Player of the game: This was a typically balanced UConn effort, but, as is often the case, Gabby Williams was at the center of much of the Huskies' success on both ends. Her 15 points didn't lead the team. Neither did her seven rebounds. Yet her stat sheet was amply filled. She added six assists and two blocks. More important, Williams either scored or assisted on 13 of the Huskies' 20 first-quarter points. When the outcome was still in doubt, the 5-foot-11 senior was UConn's most important player.
Kia Nurse should earn some recognition for her defensive effort on Duke's second-leading scorer, Rebecca Greenwell. With UConn defending man-to-man in the first half, Nurse face-guarded Greenwell, and not only did the Blue Devils senior not score much (three points in the first half), but she couldn't get shots off -- just three in 16 minutes.
How it was won: This time last week, we were talking about the remarkable precision of the UConn offense when the Huskies put 140 on the scoreboard against Saint Francis (Pennsylvania). Precise is not exactly what the UConn offense was against Duke. Turnovers and missed shots were sprinkled all over the first half. No matter. The Huskies turned to their defense, also the best in the country, in the second quarter and turned the game into a rout that way.
Up just 20-14 after the first quarter, UConn smothered Duke into 3 turnovers, 1-of-8 shooting, 2 near-shot clock violations and just 2 points over the first 7 minutes of the second, and the game was essentially over. Some of the sloppiness persisted on the Huskies' end, but a Crystal Dangerfield 3-pointer, a Nurse layup, a steal and basket by Williams highlighted a 12-2 run that ultimately turned into a 20-6 quarter.
Stat of the game: Following the theme of UConn defense, Duke shot only 38.3 percent for the game, including just 23 percent in that fateful second quarter. Even when the Blue Devils showed a glimmer of hope to get back in the game with an 11-4 run to start the third, thanks largely to three baskets by Leaonna Odom, they ended up making only 5 of 18 field goals in the third quarter. The UConn defense simply rose to the challenge again.
What's next: The game that nearly everyone pointed to the moment the bracket was revealed -- the defending champs against the country's lone unbeaten -- South Carolina vs. UConn has arrived, as anticipated. The Huskies and Gamecocks will meet Monday for a spot in the Final Four. UConn has been there 10 straight years. South Carolina is hoping to get back for the third time in four seasons.
When the two met Feb. 1 in Columbia, the Huskies dominated 83-58. Again, it was the second quarter that made the game a blowout. UConn outscored the Gamecocks 29-8 in the 10 minutes before halftime. South Carolina never got closer than 21 in the second half. It was a performance that even got full passing marks from the normally find-something-wrong Auriemma.
South Carolina's bugaboo of late, turnovers, were also an issue that night, as it handed the ball back to UConn 16 times.