— If not for the red jerseys and the coach on their sideline, Sunday would have been just another dissection of an opening-round opponent by the UConn women.
Southern University, Vermont, Cornell, UMBC, Coppin State — you've seen one, you've mourned them all.
"These first-round games take a familiar script," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We haven't played in so long [March 8] that we're unsure of what we're going to get in the first 10 or 15 minutes. And we know we're playing someone that from a talent standpoint is going to struggle with some of the things you're going to do. This was no different."
But this was. This was Hartford and Jen Rizzotti. This was a friendly neighbor and one of UConn's beloved daughters over for a Sunday visit on a sunny March morning. If they could, they would have had coffee — in NCAA-sanctioned mugs, of course.
Familiarity is what separated the events at Gampel Pavilion from the episode of "CSI: NCAA Tournament" that normally takes place at this stage of March Madness.
The No. 1 UConn women did what was expected. They opened a 23-point lead at the half and completed a business-as-usual 75-39 victory over the No. 16 Hawks in the first round of the Philadelphia Regional.
"I don't know much about their players; I've seen them play on occasion," Auriemma said. "But I know the general [Rizzotti], so I knew what their strategy would be like."
Frankly, it didn't matter. There were few fireworks in the course of a comparatively muted romp. The Huskies neatly stacked five players in double figures: Stefanie Dolson, Tiffany Hayes, Bria Hartley and Maya Moore with 12 points, and Kelly Faris with 10.
All did what was required, little more, especially Moore, who had four of her points by the time the Huskies led, 6-2. She also had seven rebounds, as did Dolson.
"The idea is to play your best basketball of the season," Moore said. "We had good practices this week and we all played well."
Alex Hall led the Hawks (17-16) with 10 points. They came into the tournament on a five-game winning streak after turning the frown of a 1-9 start into the smile of an America East tournament title and sixth NCAA bid.
"To end your career against the No. 1 team in the country, in front of all these people [6,418], was more than I could have asked for," Hawks senior Jackie Smith said. "We wanted to win, but it's been an awesome ride."
The Huskies (33-1) have won 21 straight and 111 of 112 and will continue the chase of a third straight NCAA title Tuesday against No. 9 seed Purdue, a 53-45 winner over Kansas State.
This UConn-Hartford collision was courtesy of the NCAA's fixation on regional matchups in the tournament and the Hawks' record. They did not meet in the regular season for the first time since 2004 and will not play next year.
If nothing else, Rizzotti wanted this game to serve as an example for the things she wants to follow it.
"I don't really want to be in this position again, 1-9 and need to come back and win the tournament to be in the NCAAs," Rizzotti said. "But I won't forget it and we'll make sure we don't take winning for granted. … This year was a reminder of how special [the NCAAs] are."
And there was never expectation that Hartford would be able to deal with UConn's superior talent. The Hawks trailed 6-5 after a three-pointer by Smith, but UConn had its first lead of 10 or more after a three-point play by Lorin Dixon made it 21-9 with 10:22 left in the half. That was in the midst of a 12-0 run that staked the Huskies to a 28-9 lead.
"We didn't change anything we do," Hartford's Ruthanne Doherty said. "We just went into the game trying to be fearless. We didn't go in already defeated."
The biggest advantage UConn had, in the most literal sense, was Dolson, its emerging 6-foot-5 freshman center. Hartford had no answer for Dolson and she was 6 of 9 (12 points) in her 19 minutes in the first half.
UConn was 18 of 31 from the floor in taking a 40-17 lead at the half, outscoring the Hawks 28-6 in the paint and 11-0 off six turnovers.
Hartford's offense seemed to center exclusively Doherty. The sophomore forward took 10 of the Hawks' 24 shots in the first half and scored seven points.
But scoring against UConn is no easy task for any team, let alone the 64th seed in the tournament, and she picked up her fourth foul less than three minutes into the second half.
The Huskies began the second half by rolling off 10 of the first 12 points in the opening five minutes to take a 50-19 lead. And it wasn't long after that Auriemma began to clear what's left of his bench to rest his starters for another day.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun