- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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Saturday was about executing the offense and making shots. UConn's second-round 77-44 victory over Vanderbilt on Monday had a different catalyst: defense.
The Huskies' ability to win games by different means is the primary reason they've been at or near the top of women's college basketball for six years. Call it dominance by versatility.
The offense wasn't necessarily lousy Monday, but it wasn't exactly clicking early. Yet 11 minutes into the game, the Huskies had forced nine turnovers and turned them into 15 points for a 23-13 lead. It didn't matter that other than Stefanie Dolson, UConn's passing was shaky. It didn't matter that some of those 15-footers that fell in Saturday's 68-point win over Idaho weren't finding the bottom of the net against the Commodores for much of the first half. The Huskies' defense was in control.
By halftime, UConn had scored 23 points off turnovers and held a 13-point lead. Still, the true measure of the UConn D came after the break. Vanderbilt didn't hit a field goal until 12:40 remained in the second half. The game was effectively over at that point and it was only a matter of counting down the minutes to Connecticut's 20th straight Sweet 16 appearance.
The offense became a little crisper after halftime, and Breanna Stewart's play after the break was perhaps most encouraging. After missing the opener with a minor calf injury, the freshman posted up with conviction, contributed on defense with three steals and three blocks, and scored 14 points in her NCAA tournament debut. Only Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored more (22 points) for the Huskies, knocking down her 107th and 108th 3-pointers of the season to establish a single-season UConn record.
When it was all said and done, the Huskies held Vanderbilt to 37.8 percent shooting, forced 20 turnovers and advanced to face a Maryland team UConn already has beaten this season. When UConn and the Terps met in early December, the Huskies turned over the Terps 26 times and won 63-48. If Monday's UConn defense shows up again, their Sweet 16 matchup could look awfully similar.
For as much as an efficient offense was the storyline in UConn's opener, defense paved the way to a second-round victory over Vanderbilt.