Difficult ending to a difficult season: UConn women lose for first time in Sweet 16 since 2005

Tribune Content Agency

SEATTLE — The last time the UConn women’s basketball team traveled out West for a regional was the last time the Huskies didn’t make it to the Final Four.

The year was 2007 and UConn were sent to Fresno, Calif., where the Huskies beat Kay Yow’s North Carolina State team in the regional semifinal but lost to Stanford in the regional final.

After that, every year since 2008, it would be March and you’d turn on your TV and there UConn would be in the Final Four.

But Saturday afternoon at Climate Pledge Arena, under the gaze of former UConn greats Sue Bird and Asjha Jones, UConn couldn’t get the job done, losing 73-61 to Ohio State. Lou Lopez Senechal led the second-seeded Huskies with 25 points.

The Huskies had been 6-0 against Ohio State before Saturday,

It was the first time UConn hadn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2005, when the Huskies lost to Stanford in Kansas City.

Saturday’s game was a difficult ending to a difficult season, filled with injuries to key players, including preseason season-ending injuries to Paige Bueckers and vaunted freshman Ice Brady.

“It was a Sweet 16 game, so we knew they’re going to come out and they were fighting for their lives, and it’s kind of like all teams do that,” UConn’s Dorka Juhasz said. “And we were just not able to respond, unfortunately.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma had said before the game that after the season the Huskies had, they were fortunate to be in Seattle. But the expectation, even for this season, is always the Final Four and when UConn got some key players back from injuries and started playing well during the Big East tournament — then won it — the expectations surged again.

“The surprise was, more than anything, leading up to this all week — we felt like we had really, really good workouts, we had really good idea what we wanted to do, what Ohio State was going to do and we started the game like we knew,” Auriemma said Saturday. “The first couple times we turned the ball over, it was a real punch that kind of put us back a little bit. It was so unlike what I’ve seen in the last month.”

UConn knew Ohio State’s smothering press was going to be difficult to deal with, but point guard Nika Muhl said Friday she thought the Huskies would be in a “good place against it.

“They create a lot of chaotic situations for you if you’re not prepared to handle it,” Auriemma said before the game.

UConn had 25 turnovers, the most since the Huskies played Princeton in December and had 27 turnovers.

The first half proved chaotic for UConn, which struggled to handle the press. The Huskies had 18 turnovers and trailed 36-26 at halftime. It didn’t help that Aaliyah Edwards was in foul trouble and only played nine minutes in the first half, and Lopez

Senechal, who led the Huskies in scoring at halftime with eight points, slipped midway through the second quarter and left the court, holding her right knee. UConn didn’t even to get a shot off in the second quarter until Azzi Fudd hit one with 5:30 left in the quarter and the Huskies trailing 26-19.

Lopez Senechal returned in the second half and hit a driving baseline layup and it appeared the Huskies had righted themselves. But they had another turnover. Edwards picked up her fourth foul with 7:07 left.

By the end of the third quarter, the Huskies still trailed by 10, 54-44. UConn made a brief rally in the fourth, cutting the lead to nine on a Lopez Senechal 3-pointer with 3:44 left. But the Huskies couldn’t muster anything else after that.

“I think Ohio State just outplayed us and took us out of a bunch of stuff that we want to do,” Auriemma said. “Again, it’s unfortunate that we chose tonight to play the way we did, but I think Ohio State had so much to do with that. I thought Kevin’s team was really, really good and really well prepared. They knew exactly what they wanted to do and what to take away from us. We lost our balance and we lost our equilibrium a little bit and I don’t think we ever got it back.”