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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Mar 31, 2024 1:05 am

No. 3 UConn takes care of No. 7 Duke; USC next

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Paige Bueckers scored 24 points and UConn grinded its way to a 53-45 victory over Duke on Saturday night in the Portland Region semifinals at Moda Center.

The third-seeded Huskies (32-5) used stifling defense to pull out their 12th straight win and earn a spot against USC in Monday’s Elite Eight.

Oluchi Okananwa scored 15 points off the bench to lead No. 7 seed Duke (22-12).

The Blue Devils shot 32.7 percent from the field, made only 4 of 19 shots from 3-point range and committed 23 turnovers. They scored only 13 points in the first half and were held to their second-lowest scoring total of the season.

The Huskies shot only 40 percent from the field and registered a worse percentage than Duke from beyond the arc (3 of 16, 18.8 percent). Nonetheless, they forged a 20-point lead in the third quarter and held on as Duke rallied down the stretch.

“UConn did a great job of executing what they want to do defensively,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said. “We struggled to score all night. Defensively, we played well enough to win. But we were out of sorts and out of rhythm on the offensive end. Until late, we weren’t able to get enough points on the board.”

“Everybody plays their butts off to the end this time of year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “You’re staring at the end of the season. Players play with a certain amount of desperation and passion. We knew it wasn’t over when we had a big lead.”

UConn extended a 10-point halftime lead to 33-17 early in the third quarter. Huskies center Aaliyah Edwards was whistled for her fourth foul with 4:18 left in the quarter and her team ahead 33-19. Bueckers knocked down back-to-back jumpers and KK Arnold followed with a pair of foul shots to make it 39-19.

Finally, Duke began to find its range, using an 8-3 run to close the gap to 42-27 heading into the final period. The Blue Devils continued to chip away from there. A three-point play by Okananwa with 4:46 remaining trimmed the deficit to 48-38.

Neither team scored again until Reigan Richardson hit a jumper to draw Duke within 48-40 with 2:30 left. When Okananwa drilled a 3-pointer with 1:59 to go, the difference was 48-43.

But Edwards connected on a jumper with 1:06 to play to make it 50-43. Bueckers made three free throws down the stretch to help the Huskies hold Duke at bay.

“That was a big shot — a huge shot,” said Auriemma, who used only six players. Three of them — Bueckers, Arnold and Nika Muhl — went the distance.

The Huskies led 10-6 after a slow-paced first quarter. Duke was only 3 for 13 from the field — and 0-for-5 on 3-point attempts — in the quarter. The Huskies weren’t much better at 5 for 14 and 0-for-2 from distance.

Bueckers picked up her second foul early in the second quarter but remained in the game. Her three-point play pulled UConn into a 15-6 lead with 7:02 remaining in the quarter. Midway through the period, Duke had 13 turnovers. The Huskies increased the margin to 23-10 before Ashlon Jackson’s 3-pointer just before the half ended for Duke.

–Kerry Eggers, Field Level Media

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