TAMPA, Fla. -- UConn beat Maryland 81-58 to advance to Tuesday's national championship game, where Notre Dame awaits. For just the second time in women's NCAA tournament history, two teams will meet in the title game in back-to-back seasons.
The Huskies beat Tennessee in the championship game in 2003 and 2004, capping UConn's first three-peat in program history. While Notre Dame is looking for the program's second title (the Irish won in 2001), two-time defending champion UConn is one win away from another three-peat and the program's 10th NCAA title.
But first, a look at what went down Sunday in the national semifinals.
How the game was won: This wasn't an explosive night for Connecticut. The Huskies' win over Maryland was surgical. They played offense with typical efficiency and almost completely took away the Terrapins' inside game in the second half. Maryland was just hanging on when halftime hit, but a spurt in the first 3½ minutes of the second half by UConn effectively ended Maryland's hopes for an upset and its 28-game winning streak.
Player of the game: Morgan Tuck. UConn's 6-foot-2 sophomore hit 3-pointers, got on the offensive glass, drove to the bucket both right and left, and posted up effectively. The sum total was 24 points, 10-for-16 shooting and nine rebounds. Often underrated and recognized as UConn's fourth-best player, Sunday night Tuck was the best the Huskies had to offer.
Player of the game II: Breanna Stewart. Moriah Jefferson and Tuck were the catalysts early, but Stewart was her usual brilliant self throughout. She scored a game-high 25 points, taking just 13 shots (making seven), and was 9-of-10 from the free throw line. Stewart was also a big reason for Maryland's inability to get easy baskets inside; she had four blocks and two steals. The Terrapins scored just 25 second-half points.
Turning point: Maryland hung around and was just close enough at halftime at 44-33. Then, less than two minutes into the second half, Tuck hit a step-back 3-pointer on a drive-and-kick pass from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. On Maryland's next possession, Stewart blocked a Laurin Mincy jump shot and scored on the ensuing fast break at the other end on a nice pass from Mosqueda-Lewis. After another Maryland miss, Kia Nurse slipped an elbow screen, cut back door, and hit a layup on yet another perfect assist from Mosqueda-Lewis. The top 3-point shooter in the history of women's college basketball was Connecticut's chief playmaker on three straight possessions, and the Huskies' 11-point halftime lead quickly ballooned to 18. Mosqueda-Lewis finished the game making only 1 of 8 field goal attempts (and 1 of 5 3-pointers), but had seven assists.
Stat of the game: Maryland got to the line only six times. UConn actually had only five more field goals than the Terps, but the Huskies made 15 of 18 free throws.
Stat of the game II: Geno Auriemma routinely extols the virtue of not turning over the ball and not fouling -- and the Huskies committed only 13 fouls (which is actually more than their season average of just over 11). With Jefferson in control all night, UConn also turned over the ball only nine times. Jefferson had just one of those to go with five assists and 14 points.
X factor: UConn's greatest strength, its ability to have five legitimate scoring options on every possession, once again was a primary reason the Huskies could not be tamed. Despite a terrible shooting night from Mosqueda-Lewis and little offense from Jefferson in the second half, Connecticut was able to completely control a game against a high-quality opponent. Maryland simply couldn't have all the answers because UConn once again posed too many questions.