UConn hands South Carolina first loss as No. 2 tops No. 1
UConn left no doubt who the best team in the country is.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 23 points and Breanna Stewart added 22 to help No. 2 UConn beat top-ranked South Carolina 87-62 on Monday night.
"I think it speaks for itself," Stewart said.
Still, there is a lot of basketball left to be played before the Final Four in Tampa this year. And, coach Geno Auriemma knows that he could see the Gamecocks again.
"I think this was one night, one game in February," Auriemma said. "They are going to be playing deep into the NCAA tournament. I told Dawn (Staley), I hope we play them in Tampa. That would be pretty special."
This was the 54th meeting between the top two teams in the nation, and the 20th time that the Huskies have been involved in that matchup. They improved to 17-3 in those games.
Moriah Jefferson had 16 points for the Huskies (23-1), who improved to 17-3 in matchups between the top two teams in the poll.
The teams traded baskets early and South Carolina (22-1) led 18-15 7 minutes in before UConn took over. The Huskies scored the next 13 points to blow the game open. Jefferson got it started with a three-point play. Morgan Tuck and Mosqueda-Lewis added 3-pointers as UConn led 28-18.
Bianca Cuevas hit a floater with 8:48 left to end the drought for South Carolina, but it was short-lived. The Huskies scored the next eight to take command.
"We played unbelievably well, played great on defense," Auriemma said.
The Huskies led by 16 at the half and South Carolina could only get within 10 the rest of the way.
Aleighsa Welch and Tiffany Mitchell each scored 17 to lead the Gamecocks.
"We're not stunned. This is no way, shape or form the defining point in our season," Welch said. "We have to evaluate the film, ourselves. Learn from it and move on."
This game had been highly anticipated since it was the 54th meeting of The Associated Press women's basketball poll's top teams.
Not even a blizzard that dropped around a foot of snow in the area could keep fans away. Students arrived more than two hours before the game started to get in their seats where T-shirts awaited with the phrase "Basketball Capital of the World" adorning the front. Even the 600 fans who couldn't make it turned in their tickets so that students on campus could attend to make this game a sellout. This was the first on-campus sellout for UConn since last season's senior day.
"I can't say enough about all the fans that braved the elements to come out here. That's pretty special," Auriemma said.
It's not often that UConn has hosted a No. 1 team in the nation. Usually, it's the Huskies who are the top team in the country. South Carolina has been No. 1 in the poll the last 12 weeks since UConn suffered its only loss of the season at Stanford.
Assuming the Huskies can beat Tulane on Saturday, they will reclaim the No. 1 position in the poll. That's not too much of a stretch to believe since UConn has won its conference games this season by nearly 50 points a game.
With about a minute left, the student section started chanting, "We're No. 1."
South Carolina: The Gamecocks' 22 straight wins to begin the season matched the best start by any team in school history tying the 2000 baseball squad and 1979-80 women's tennis team. ... South Carolina has never beaten a team ranked higher than third. ... The Gamecocks hadn't given up more than 63 points in a game this season until Monday night.
UConn: Auriemma and Chris Dailey were presented with basketballs and framed jerseys to commemorate the 900th victory achieved last week against Cincinnati. ... UConn is now 5-1 in 1 vs. 2 matchups when the Huskies are the No. 2 team.
Hours before the game, USA basketball announced Staley, DePaul's Doug Bruno and Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve as assistant for the 2016 Olympics. The trio helped the Americans win the title at the 2014 world championship. The group all received their world championship rings before the game.