This was never really about the final score. If it was, UConn's 102-45 win over Hartford at Chase Family Arena would have diminished what the day really was about. And it didn't.
"I said before the game that I believed this would be a win-win situation for us," Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti said. "When you walk into a arena, see the sellout, feel the energy and hear a lot of people cheering their Hartford Hawks …
"The outcome was hard, but I love the fact that people came up to me after the game and said how hard my team played the entire game. That is important to me."
Even after all these years, there is still more than 30 miles separating the Huskies and Hawks, in terms of talent and national impact. No one would deny that.
But not since 1990 had UConn played there and that was five years before its first national championship and the start of its national branding. The sight of the nation's No. 2 team attracting what is considered the first sellout in the history of Hartford basketball, men or women, is what will resonate for their athletic department.
Auriemma and Rizzotti, his dear friend and former point guard, exchanged niceties before the game. But once it started, there was no mercy expected and none given.
The Huskies now head in various directions to enjoy a short Christmas break. The will reconvene in California on Wednesday to begin preparation for Saturday's game at No. 1 Stanford.
UConn had six players in double-figures, led by freshman Breanna Stewart, who scored a career-high 27 points with seven rebounds.
Stewart has scored 169 points in her first 10 games, the most by any UConn player over that span.
"We just wanted to play the best we could and keep the ball rolling over the break as we prepare to go to Stanford," Stewart said.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 21 (8 of 11) and Kelly Faris added 18 (7 of 10). Bria Hartley added 15 points and six assists. The 102 points were the most scored by the Huskies in their eight games against a Rizzotti-coached Hartford team.
"The coaches do a very good job for us in helping us keep focused," Hartley said. "We have to make sure we took care of the basketball first and then go home to our families."
The only thing that didn't cooperate was the stomach of freshman Moriah Jefferson. She played only three minutes because of it.
The Huskies (10-0) took a 6-0 lead before Hartford climbed back to 6-5. A pair of three-pointers by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Caroline Doty made it 12-5 and then Alyssa Englert's basket with 14:39 to play in the first half brought the Hawks within 12-7.
Hopefully, someone took a picture.
The Huskies scored next 18 points to take a 30-7 lead. And it wasn't until 5:32 remained in the half that Hartford's next basket, a three-pointer by Daphne Elliott, was scored.
That made the score 38-11.
"That first 10 to 15 minutes was exactly what we wanted to do defensively," Auriemma said."When you average what Hartford has been averaging [63.3 points] it is going to be difficult against us."
UConn then scored 13 of the last 17 points in the half. It was 51-15. Elliott, the senior guard from Fairfield, had 10 of those points. She ultimately led the Hawks (8-3) in scoring with those 10 points.
It wasn't hard to tell how it all happened. The Hawks committed 21 first-half turnovers, which led to 28 points. They ended with 25. Too much pressure. And UConn outscored the Hawks 26-4 in the paint in the first half, 40-16 in the game. Too much size.
The Huskies had four players in double-figures in the first half, led by Faris who had 13, shooting 5 of 6 from the floor. They made 19 of 30 shots, including five threes.
Meanwhile, Hartford managed just five field goals and 16 shots, a byproduct of its inability to take care of the ball long enough to get a shot launched.
The Huskies again played without sophomore center Kiah Stokes and freshman Morgan Tuck, both out with leg injuries. Stokes, who has a stress reaction to a shin, is also listed as doubtful for Stanford and Oregon, which follows on Dec. 31.
The Hawks were without sophomore guard Amber Bepko who injured an ankle at Friday's practice. Bepko, the sophomore from Guilford, may likely be the Hawks best defender. And not having her out there just made it tougher for everyone else.
"It's unfortunate that she got hurt and wasn't able to play," Auriemma said. "Trying to play without your best player is kind of difficult. But having said that, the way we shot the ball for most of the game [38 of 61, 62.3 percent] it was going to be hard for anyone to beat us."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun