STORRS, Conn. -- After watching Connecticut run up and down the floor against Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) on its way to a 140-point performance in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri knew her team wasn't going to out-sprint the top-seeded Huskies.
With just 36 hours to prepare after her team beat Miami in the tournament for the second consecutive year, Fabbri tossed away the team's up-tempo offense that won ninth-seeded Quinnipiac 28 games this season.
If the Bobcats were going to beat the Huskies on Monday night, it was going to be because they effectively shortened the game and slowed the pace to disrupt the Huskies' dominant up-tempo play.
For the most part, Quinnipiac did just that, holding the Huskies to 19 points in the first quarter and their second-lowest first-half point total (33) of the season. But as effective as Quinnipiac was in containing the UConn offense, it might've rattled its own offense.
An inability to make shots, especially from 3-point range, cost the Bobcats their season, as they fell on the wrong end of a 71-46 defeat in the second round.
The Huskies, who remain undefeated this season at 34-0, clinched their 25th straight appearance in the Sweet 16.
"We are not thrilled with the result, but our execution and our effort was fantastic," Fabbri said. "I know the numbers are good for us. We just had to make a couple more."
A crucial period of the game came in the second quarter, with both teams making adjustments based on the opening 10 minutes of play. Quinnipiac succeeded in stunting Napheesa Collier's production, loading the paint whenever she tried to touch the ball. After her 10-point opening quarter, Collier didn't score another field goal until late in the third quarter.
For UConn, it was about keeping the Bobcats beyond the arc. When Quinnipiac began to find a rhythm early in the second half, Auriemma made a defensive change. He began switching defenses, going from a man defense to a 2-3 zone. The Huskies dared the Bobcats to make the shots they needed from long distance -- and the Bobcats struggled. Quinnipiac, which averaged 8.9 3-pointers per game, went 4-for-24 from beyond the arc.
Although the Quinnipiac possessions were effectively long, they didn't necessarily end with quality shots.
"In the first half, we were taking shots with under 10 seconds left on the shot clock," Carly Fabbri said. "They were a little bit rushed and maybe led to us not hitting as many 3s as we're used to."
Like that, UConn flipped the offensive switch in the third quarter.
"We didn't worry so much about how many shots they got, as opposed to if we keep converting on the offensive end, they're going to have to speed up a little bit and try to catch up," Auriemma said. "At the end, we were just too much for them at the right time."
UConn shot 77 percent in the third quarter, hitting shots outside of the paint that spread the Quinnipiac defense. With the paint reopened, Collier went 6-for-7 in the half to finish with a game-high 23 points.
"Pheesa does a great job of getting inside position on her defenders," senior Kia Nurse said. "She catches anything that you throw at her, whether it be a good or a bad pass, and she does a great job of finishing."
Quinnipiac might have changed much of its offensive strategy, but what remained unchanged was its core identity: protecting the ball. That's what largely kept the Bobcats in the game and allowed them to take 12 more shots than the Huskies, despite being outrebounded 33-21. Quinnipiac's seven turnovers were the fewest forced by UConn this season and effectively removed that part of the Huskies' offense that preys on loose balls.
Defensively, UConn held the Bobcats to 30.4 percent shooting from the field and neutralized Quinnipiac's top scorers, Jen Fay and Aryn McClure, forcing both to beat the Huskies through isolation -- something not many players in the country can do. McClure and Fay combined for 18 points on the night, going 8-for-23 from the field.
Despite the loss, there were no downward heads in the Quinnipiac locker room, nor were there any frowns on the postgame podium. Fabbri was proud of the fight her team showed. Collectively, there was a consensus that Monday's loss was in fact a step forward for a program that shares a state with the sport's brass.
"We know that a lot of teams come in here, and within five minutes, the game is over," said Fabbri, who added that she believes her team's performance this year was the best in program history. "Tonight, that was not the case."
The Huskies now head to Albany, New York, having seen different styles in the first two games of the tournament. Auriemma called the contest "the perfect kind of game to have before regionals." Going forward, nothing should surprise the Huskies. They now have experience in both the sprint and the marathon, and they know what it takes to pick apart both game plans.
Now it's Duke's turn. The Blue Devils, who advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 60-44 win over Georgia, have fallen to the Huskies in each of their past eight meetings.
"We had an idea that the game plan from them and their execution of it would be a little different from what we saw Saturday, but it's a matter of each and every game trying to make adjustments and understanding how the defense is playing us," said Nurse, who finished with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting. "If you get a game like that at this point -- and you have games that are continually different -- it helps us prepare for what's coming next."