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Clock strikes midnight for Red Flash

Photo by J.D. Cavrich Saint Francis guard Karson Swogger’s shot is blocked by UConn’s Napheesa Collier on Saturday.

STORRS, Conn. — On Friday night, the No. 16-seeded UMBC men’s basketball team, formerly a member of the Northeast Conference, pulled off what many commentators were very quickly calling the biggest upset in the history of college basketball by beating Virginia, the top overall seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament.

The Saint Francis women were in the exact same spot on the women’s side of things as they faced the daunting task of playing Connecticut, the top overall seed in the women’s game, on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, for the Red Flash, it didn’t take very long to realize just how much different the gap is in the women’s game compared to the men’s.

Despite only trailing by three through the first two-and-a-half minutes, reality set in and SFU was run right off the floor in a 140-52 defeat to the Huskies in first round action of the Albany Region at Gampel Pavilion.

“I want to say how proud I am of our team and the season we had,” Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “That’s the most important thing with our opportunity to come here and play. We wanted to show how we play and how we could compete and not worry about the end result. I think we did that today.”

The Red Flash season closed with a 24-10 record, while Connecticut improved to 33-0 and will face Quinnipiac, an 86-72 winner over Miami (Fla.), in the second game of the doubleheader.

Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh knew whatever game plan that so many other teams had tried to play out had failed, so the Red Flash stuck to what they need best.

“There was only one chance we had to come close in this game and that was going to be to shoot a million threes and hope they go in,” Haigh said. “So, we shot a million threes and we didn’t make them.”

Unfortunately for SFU, UConn is also a fastbreak team.

“Clearly, that was part of their game plan and how they thought they could be successful,” UConn senior Kia Nurse said. “For us, that just played into our hands. We do a great job when we can get out in transition and that’s where we are quite dangerous. The fact that they took so many quick shots led to easy defensive rebounds and leak-outs.”

What that led to was a track meet up-and-down the floor that allowed several single game records to be set.

“I do have to say, I don’t think I’ve been involved in anything quite like that. That was different from anything I’ve experienced either regular season or NCAA tournament,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “We took advantage of all the things that were available to us the entire game. We’re a really unselfish team and we are really good at passing up some real easy shots for great shots. We did that and just kept doing it. That’s kind of what happened. Fifty-seven threes, I’ve never seen that in my life. Wow, God bless them.”

The Red Flash established a new NCAA tournament mark and program high with 57 3-pointers attempted. Meanwhile, the 140 points given up were the most allowed in history and the 88 point margin of defeat was the largest ever.

For UConn, the 55 points scored in the first quarter are the highest ever, the 97 they had at the half are the most over and the 140 total in the game are the most in the school’s history.

“I don’t think it’s bad for women’s basketball at all,” Haigh said when asked if he thinks people on the outside will view the margin of victory as a bad thing for the game. “… Everyone knows the difference between the best team in America and the teams at the smaller level of Division I. But we didn’t play scared, we did the best we could. The people who want to say it’s bad for women’s basketball, probably don’t care about women’s basketball much anyway.”

SFU actually had the game tied very early as Caitlyn Kroll responded to a Katie Lou Samuelson 3-pointer to open the game with a driving layup at the 9:37 mark.

Courtney Zezza would bury a trey of her own from the left corner after a Napheesa Collier layup to tie the contest at 5-5 just 49 seconds in.

UConn went off on a 6-0 run as Collier continued her pace with three more hoops before another Zezza triple off an inbound pulled the Red Flash back within three (11-8).

Unfortunately, the Huskies reeled off one of their patented runs with a 33-2 burst capped off by a Collier free throw with 2:03 left to stretch the lead to 44-10 before Maya Wynn drilled a triple.

Haley Thomas, who finished with a career-high 12 points on four 3-pointers, would knock down two of them to close out the SFU scoring in the first quarter. Samuelson hit another trifecta from the left corner with 2.2 ticks to go in the opening quarter to give UConn a 55-19 lead.

The second quarter was more of the same as the Red Flash fell into a deeper hole by being outscored 39-12 to raise the halftime deficit to 97-31.

“This is the way Saint Francis wanted to play and this is the way the game played out,” Auriemma said. “Some games are a struggle, this one wasn’t a struggle — and it could have been a lot worse.”

When Saint Francis would take away the 3-point shots, Connecticut would counter by exposing the backdoor cut for easy layups as the Huskies own a decided 96-10 advantage with points in the pain.

As the rest of the SFU roster was scoring, Jessica Kovatch found open shots hard to find as she was being heavily defended by one of the leading candidates for the national defensive player of the year in Nurse. And when Nurse was out, last year’s defensive player of the year, Gabby Williams, took her turn at shutting down the Red Flash star.

Kovatch wouldn’t get on the scoreboard until she was fouled by Nurse taking a 3-pointer at the 7:34 mark of the third stanza. The junior would knock down all three, and finish the game with nine total points, but was held without a 3-pointer the entire way.

The pace slowed considerably in the second half as UConn looked more to its bench to keep their starters fresh and injury-free.

Saint Francis would play everyone on their roster with only six of them seeing the ball go through the hoop.

“This season was extremely important to me,” SFU senior Maya Wynn said.

UConn’s Azura Stevens collected a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Nurse matched her rebound total and tallied 15 points. Four other Huskies scored in double figures with Collier amassing 25, Megan Walker tallying 19, Samuelson recording 18 and Williams registering 16.

“One thing that impressed me was their cohesiveness and their communication on the floor,” Saint Francis senior Cydney Smith said. “I hope that is something that our girls will take into next season. There were all very composed out there, and I hope my teammates can learn from that.”

SAINT FRANCIS (24-10): Harrison 1-8 2-3 4, Zezza 3-12 0-0 9, Kroll 5-10 0-0 11, Wynn 2-14 1-2 7, Kovatch 3-14 3-3 9, Swogger 0-2 0-0 0, Morrow 0-2 0-0 0, Mastellone 0-2 0-0 0, Carroll 0-1 0-0 0, Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Falvey 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 0-5 0-0 0, Thomas 4-10 0-0 12. Totals: 18-81 6-8 52.

CONNECTICUT (33-0): Williams 7-8 2-2 16, Collier 11-13 3-4 25, Samuelson 7-11 0-0 18, Dangerfield 1-3 2-2 4, Nurse 7-11 1-2 15, Walker 7-12 2-3 19, Bent 0-1 0-0 0, Stevens 11-16 4-6 26, Irwin 3-4 0-0 7, Camara 4-8 0-0 8, Gordon 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 59-91 14-19 140.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Saint Francis 19 12 17 4 – 52

Connecticut 55 39 22 24 – 140

3-point field goals: Saint Francis 10-57 (Thomas 4-8, Zezza 3-12, Wynn 2-12, Kroll 1-5, Mastellone 0-1, Carroll 0-1, Harrison 0-2, Swogger 0-2, Morrow 0-2, Smith 0-5, Kovatch 0-7); Connecticut 8-19 (Samuelson 4-7, Walker 3-3, Irwin 1-1, Dangerfield 0-1, Stevens 0-1, Nurse 0-3, Gordon 0-3). Rebounds: Saint Francis 30 (Harrison 6); Connecticut 69 (Nurse, Stevens 10 each). Assists: Saint Francis 9 (Harrison, Kovatch 2 each); Connecticut 38 (Samuelson 10). Blocks: Saint Francis 3 (Harrison 2); Connecticut 4 (Collier 2). Steals: Saint Francis 6 (Kovatch 2); Connecticut 12 (Collier 4). Turnovers: Saint Francis 18; Connecticut 10. Total fouls: Saint Francis 17; Connecticut 7. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none.

Officials: Thomas Danaher, Meadow Overstreet, Natasha Camy.

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