Women's College Basketball

No. 2 UConn Buries No. 15 Vermont in First Round Action


UConn guard Nika Muhl drives for a layup as three Vermont Catamount players try to defend during Saturday’s NCAA Women’s Basketball First Round game at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo by Mike D’Avino/Sportspage Magazine

The last time the University of Vermont Catamounts appeared in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament was 2010, when they were the 10th seed and bounced in the second round. The year before, the Catamounts were the 16th seed and got trounced by the UConn Huskies by 39 points. Sometimes history has a way of repeating itself as the Catamounts, now the 15th seed, were crushed by the No. 2 seed Huskies 95-52, a margin of 43 points, during Saturday’s First Round game at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

Entering the game, a 15th seed has never defeated a 2nd seed in the history of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The record was still intact when the game concluded. So, too, was the fact that the UConn Huskies had never lost a first round game since the 1993 tournament when they lost a 74-71 contest to Louisville. Three decades have now passed since that game.

UConn began the game against the Catamounts on a 7-0 run and never looked back. Vermont scored their first basket, a jumper by forward Maria Myklebust with 6:49 remaining in the first quarter, making the score 7-2.

Vermont wasn’t afraid to play tough against the Huskies in the first quarter, but no matter what they did, it wasn’t enough. After a layup by forward Aryana Dizon and a three-pointer by Myklebust, Vermont trailed by only six points, a 13-7 deficit, with 4:20 left in the quarter.

UConn forward Dorka Juhasz stole the ball from Dizon and make the outlet pass to forward Aaliyah Edwards who scored a fast break layup in transition. Edwards was fouled by Dizon. After the free throw, the Huskies had an 18-7 lead, which was pushed to 21-10 after both teams traded three point buckets. The quarter ended with UConn leading 21-12 after a layup by Catamount forward Anna Olson.

UConn forward Caroline Ducharme connected on a three-pointer just 44 seconds into the second quarter. The Huskies were on a 12-2 run over the last three minutes of the ballgame. Baskets by Juhasz, guard Nika Muhl and Edwards, pushed it to an 18-2 run over the previous 6:47, which was broken by a three-pointer by guard Catherine Gilwee. Thirty seconds later, Myklebust added another trey. The score was now 38-18 with UConn leading by 20 and 5:13 left on the clock.

UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards prepares to shoot over the outstretched arms of Vermont Catamount forward Delaney Richason during Saturday’s NCAA Women’s Basketball First Round game at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Edwards shot a career best 28 points in the game. Photo by Mike D’Avino/Sportspage Magazine

Vermont guard Emma Utterback scored on a layup with 1:24 remaining in the half, which were the only other points the Catamounts would score. It was 53-20 in favor of UConn at halftime. The Huskies shot 69 percent in the first half and had assists on 14 of their 20 baskets thus far.

Knowing they were down by a large margin, Utterback and Gilwee mounted their own comeback in the third quarter. Utterback hit two three-pointers, scored on a layup and jumper, plus converted one free throw for 11 points in the quarter. Gilwee hit two three-pointers and a jumper for her eight points. A jump shot by guard Paula Gonzalez was the only other Catamount score in the quarter. However, that was matched by eight points from Edwards, six from Juhasz, five from Ducharme and three from guard Azzi Fudd. In other words, at the end of the third quarter, Vermont wasn’t any better off than where they started. UConn led 75-41 after three quarters.

Fatigue hit the Catamounts hard early in the fourth quarter, while UConn increased their intensity. Husky forward Aaliyah Edwards scored on a layup with 7:48 left in the contest. Edwards had gone 13-for-15 from the field with a career high 28 points. Edwards spent the rest of the game on the bench, as the Huskies now had a commanding 82-41 lead, which capped a 7-0 run to begin the fourth quarter.

The Catamounts then tried to play the perimeter game in order to keep the score somewhat close, but like earlier, the shots just weren’t falling. During the rest of the quarter, Myklebust scored a three-pointer and a jump shot for five points; Gilwee added three more on a trey; and forward Delaney Richason added another three-pointer. The game ended in a 95-52 win for the Huskies.

The Huskies shot 61.9 percent on 39-for-63 from the field, with 27 assists. They were led by Edwards 28 points, Juhasz scored 15 and Ducharme pitched in for 12. Juhasz led all rebounders with 10.

For the Catamounts, they shot 33.3 percent from the field on 20-for-60 shooting, and were 11-for-32 from beyond the arc. Gilwee led Vermont with 14 points and five assists. Myklebust and Utterback each scored 13 points. Guard Bella Vito pulled down four rebounds to the lead the Catamounts.

“I’m really, really pleased with the performance today. Obviously, it didn’t end the way we want, but that’s a really talented UConn team. But there’s some really good things that we can take from this game and stuff that we’re going to build off of as we continue to build our program,” said Catamounts head coach Alisa Kresge. “As we say, you’ve got to play the best in order to continue to get better. I think today showed that there’s things that we are able to do that’s going to help develop our program even further. So next year hopefully when we have an opportunity to make a run we have a chance to be back in this situation and maybe with a different outcome.”

Vermont went on a 17-game winning streak to end the season and the America East tournament.

Vermont Catamount forward Delaney Richarson shoots the jumper during Saturday’s NCAA Women’s Basketball First Round game at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. Photo by Mike D’Avino/Sportspage Magazine

“I’m extremely proud of this Vermont group. Once again, we showed why we’re sitting here, and that’s toughness and grit. So I couldn’t be more proud of this group. They worked extremely hard to get to this point. We’ve talked a lot about it, but 17 games in a row to get here is pretty hard to do,” said Kresge.

Remembering the first round loss in the 1993 tournament, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said, “The NCAA tournament does a lot to people. It brings out the best in some people, brings out the worst in some people. That’s why it’s so exciting, I think, to find out which teams are going to be playing their best and which teams are going to struggle.”

“So you always worry about that going into the first – especially the first game. You’re always worried about that. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, you know? It doesn’t matter what seed you are or they are. So it was really gratifying today to see us come out and start the way we did and compete with the energy that we had and the focus that we had. And then get, you know, amazing performances from Aaliyah [Edwards] and Dorka [Juhasz]. I just think that’s a
great way to start. Hopefully we can build on that Monday night,” he added.
Said Edwards, the game’s high scorer, “I think that we started the game off really well and we hit ’em with the first punch. I think that probably from the jump ball, I knew personally, individually, that I would be able to dominate inside, and I think Dorka [Juhasz] had her own too. I think that we just flowed together as a team. I think we had a lot of assists as well throughout the whole game. I think that we just capitalized on every possession that we could.”

Utterback knows this is a stepping stone for a program that has not been in the tournament in 12 seasons.

“I think the biggest takeaway that we can get from this game is that in big pressure games how to remain ourselves. None of us have been in that experience before. We played Indiana earlier this year, but it was both of our first games, and March Madness is completely different. It’s a completely different ball game,” Utterback said.

UConn, the second seed in the Seattle 3 bracket, will face the winner of the Alabama-Baylor first round game on Monday night, also at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

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