STORRS, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Huskies have rededicated themselves to defense. It’s been a huge problem for their opponents.
Third-ranked UConn held No. 13 Rutgers to a season-low 34 points in Saturday night’s 66-34 victory.
“I thought defensively we were really, really, really good,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “One thing that doesn’t maybe get as much notoriety is the scouting reports our (assistants) come up with. They take it real seriously. They make sure the players are really into it. By game time there is very little our players don’t already know.”
UConn leads the nation in points allowed, giving up just 45 a game. This week they held No. 5 Duke to 45 points Monday night and now stymied Rutgers.
“We had a couple games where coach wasn’t pleased with our defense, so I think we’ve been definitely stepping up our defense just to prove to him and everyone else that our defense is the best in the country,” said Stefanie Dolson, who led the Huskies with 16 points.
Tiffany Hayes added 14 points and seven assists for UConn, which won its 98th straight game at home.
The Huskies (21-2, 9-1 Big East) grabbed control with a 17-0 run midway through the first half. Hayes got the run started with eight straight points. Then Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis took over, hitting three straight 3-pointers. All three of the freshman’s shots barely even moved the net.
“When Kaleena came in and we went on that run, the defense got fueled as well,” Auriemma said. “We started rebounding better and playing better.”
Rutgers (17-6, 6-4) scored seven straight to cut it to 10, but UConn closed the half with 14 of the final 18 points to lead 37-19 at the break.
It only got worse for the Scarlet Knights in the second half as they had only three baskets in the first 17 minutes, including a 7-minute stretch without a field goal.
“It’s a lot of aggressiveness on our part,” said Mosqueda-Lewis. “We’ve got to make sure we take some risks, we’ve got to make sure that we’re getting into the lanes. We’ve got to make sure we’re being as aggressive as coach is asking us to be.”
It’s been so long since the Huskies lost at home that no player on the roster has seen a defeat in Connecticut.
“I don’t think we’ve lost at home since we’ve been here,” Hayes said.
The senior guard didn’t even know the last team to knock off the Huskies at home was.
The answer is Rutgers, which beat the Huskies in the Big East tournament title game in 2007 that was played in Hartford. The NCAA recognizes Connecticut’s postseason games played in Hartford or Storrs as home contests.
The team that beat UConn and the one that played Saturday night were very different.
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer started four freshmen and Monique Oliver for the second straight game. Just like in their loss to No. 2 Notre Dame, the talented young group held their own for the first few minutes before Hayes and UConn took control with the huge run.
It was the 11th time in the past 12 games that Hayes has scored in double figures. The senior guard set a UConn record for points in consecutive games last week when she had 68 total in wins over Syracuse and South Florida.
Rutgers tried playing a deliberate plodding style, constantly working the shot clock down to the final few seconds before attempting a shot. The Scarlet Knights just couldn’t convert many of their opportunities on offense.
Rutgers finished with 13 baskets, 21 turnovers and 19 fouls. The Scarlet Knights had only hit three baskets in the first 17 minutes of the second half, going nearly 7 minutes without a field goal at one point as UConn extended its advantage to 33 points.
The Scarlet Knights have dropped three straight games, getting blown out by No. 20 Georgetown, second-ranked Notre Dame and now No. 3 UConn.
“I’m happy this all happened,” Stringer said. “I’m not too stressed out, I’ll be critical to our team, but on the other hand my challenge is much more clear. Either you step to it or you don’t want to be here.”
Oliver scored 15 points to lead the Scarlet Knights .
Rutgers was once again without senior guard Khadijah Rushdan, who suffered a concussion in the first half of the loss to the Hoyas. She didn’t travel to Connecticut with the Scarlet Knights so she could continue to recover.
Rushdan is the second-leading scorer on the team and had been playing well before getting hurt. She rescued the Scarlet Knights from a 16-point deficit in the second half to beat DePaul. She scored the final 11 points of that game, including the winning lay-in with 1.5 seconds left.
The Scarlet Knights have eight days off until their next game when they host St. John’s. Rutgers’ schedule does get a bit easier; it currently has no more games left against Top 25 teams.
“Now we get a chance to take a breather and hopefully get some ice baths and let our bodies heal a little bit,” Stringer said. “I’m grateful that we had an opportunity to play someone who would pin us. If we didn’t we’d be stunned first round of the NCAA tournament.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.