CINCINNATI — When January turns to February, as it did Saturday, time tends to pass with great pace for college basketball teams preparing for March.
Just the other day, UConn coach Geno Auriemma used a timely Olympics metaphor to describe that transition, saying it was like being on a ski jump. The top of the jump is February; the launch point is March. The middle is just a big blur downhill.
So it is, even for the defending national champion, which began its descent through the last month of play in The American with an uncomplicated 86-29 win over Cincinnati at First Third Arena.
"I'm sure it was hard to watch," Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott said. "It wasn't the kind of game we wanted to play."
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 17 points to give her consecutive double-digit performances for the first time since Duke and California in late December. She was 6 of 11 from the field, 3-for-4 from three-point range.
"We trying move her around to as many places as we can on the floor [to score]," Auriemma said. "We want to get her more active. The more we do that, the better for her, the better for us. It's important to us that we get her to be the same all the time [performance]."
More noteworthy, she took her first free throws (2 of 2) since Jan. 4 at Memphis, eight games ago. Mosqueda-Lewis, the single-season three-point shooting leader in program history, has taken only eight freebies in her first 15 games and none in 12 of them.
"Yes, I was thinking that I shoot free throws very well and I haven't them very much during games," said Mosqueda-Lewis, an 87 percent career free-throw shooter. "It probably has to do with not being as aggressive as I should."
Bria Hartley, in the midst of the best scoring streak in her career, added another 17 points and a career-high six steals. Against Temple last week, she had a career-high 11 assists. Hartley has scored 109 points in her last five games.
Moriah Jefferson added 13 points (5 of 5) and six assists. And Breanna Stewart scored 12 with eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
And freshman Saniya Chong, scoreless at Temple in 17 minutes, bounced back with 12 points (4 of 6 from three). She hadn't scored in double-figures since Dec. 5, when she had 10 against Cal Davis.
"I think I ... accomplished a lot more," Chong said. "We all played pretty well today."
The Bearcats (9-12, 2-8) were led by Jeanise Randolph, Alyesha Lovett and Jasmine Whitfield with eight points each. They shot 11 of 46 and had 24 turnovers.
The Huskies (23-0, 10-0) have now won 29 straight, dating to last year's NCAA Tournament. If they beat SMU at Gampel Pavilion on Tuesday, the 30th straight will tie the program record for fifth-longest in history.
The last time the teams played, Dec. 29 at Gampel, the Bearcats held the Huskies to 67 points, 19.3 below its scoring average at the time. Only Baylor (66) has done better this season.
That's great defense. But nobody plays defense in the nation better than UConn, the leader in points allowed, scoring margin, field goal percentage, blocks and assist-to-turnover ratio.
And the Bearcats were without their catalyst, senior guard Dayeesha Hollins, who left the program last week after dealing with chronic knee pain and injury.
"We had one point guard out there [Bianca Quisenberry] and she was a freshman," Elliott said. "And that made it kind of tough out there. She had to handle the ball against a swarming defense that would give any guard trouble."
So UConn's strategy Saturday was largely dependent on pressuring the Bearcats guards and then watching the offensive flow from there. And flow it did.
UConn had more steals (six) than Cincinnati had field goals (four) in the first 12 minutes. As a result, the Huskies also had a 26-9 lead.
The Huskies were coming off one of their great offensive performance in recent memory last week at Temple. Stewart scored a career-high 37 points, making 15 of 19 shots. And Jefferson (12) and Hartley (11) each had double-figure efforts in a performance that featured 31 assists on 39 baskets.
In its previous two games, the Huskies had assisted on 56 of 69 baskets (81.2 percent). They were 25 of 34 on Saturday.
UConn assisted on six of its first seven field goals, but soon it was the defense that took control. The Bearcats actually led twice in the first 2:50; 3-1 for 22 seconds and 5-3 for 15 seconds.
After Randolph scored with to make it 17-9 with 12:23 to play in the first half, the air drained from Cincinnati's offensive balloon, and it spiraled wildly out of control.
The Huskies outscored Cincinnati 22-0 over the next 11:38, while the Bearcats were 0 of 10 with 11 of their 15 first-half turnovers. Both Hartley (12) and Jefferson (11) had hit double-figure scoring by the half, with Hartley adding five steals, enough for her season-high.
Hartley scored 10 points in the 22-0 run and the Huskies were 16 of 33 from the field, 6 of 14 from three.
Things did not improve after halftime. The Bearcats first field goal in the second half came with 16:26 to play by Quisenberry. That made the score, 51-13. By that time, UConn had more personal fouls (seven) than the Bearcats had field goals (six).