STORRS — True to her players, committed to her beliefs, Prairie View coach Dawn Brown used top-seeded motivation to inspire her team for Sunday's NCAA first-round game against No. 1 UConn.
"Why not us? Why not now?" Brown asked prior to its latest insurmountable task.
Of course, women's basketball already knows the answer to this rhetorical question. Sentiment aside, the sport isn't capable of shocking its own system with a seismic upset.
The Panthers did what they could against the nation's No. 1 team, which really wasn't much. The competitive challenges were more than they could handle.
And as result, the Huskies, playing for the first time since March 10, easily moved into the second round with an 87-44 win before 5,018 at Gampel Pavilion.
UConn (35-0), winner of 41 straight, will play No. 9 St. Joseph's on Tuesday at 7 for the right to move on to Lincoln regional final.
"This time of the year, all you really want to do is get the first one out of the way," said Geno Auriemma, who turned 60 on Sunday. "We did a lot of great things, even though you know you are not going to play your best game of the year."
The Hawks (23-9) defeated No. 8 Georgia, 67-57, in Sunday's first Gampel game. They hadn't won an NCAA Tournament game since beating Texas in the first round in 2000.
UConn and St. Joe's have not played since the 2003 regular season. The men's teams from both schools opened the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo last Thursday, with the Huskies winning in overtime.
Each of the Huskies' starters scored in double figures. Breanna Stewart had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 13 points and eight rebounds. Bria Hartley scored 16 points. Moriah Jefferson had 14 points and five steals in just 26 minutes. Stefanie Dolson had 11 points, six assists and six rebounds.
"We were really in sync on offense," Hartley said. "We have great chemistry. We know what each other is going to do before we do it."
LaReahn Washington led the Panthers (14-18) with 13 points. But Brown literally pressed UConn to the buzzer, backcourt style. They even outscored the Huskies 29-27 in the last 16 minutes.
"I told them at the half that this was a milestone time for us," Brown said.
They led 44-12 at the half and then scored the first 14 points in the second, the sprinkles on the frosting of a cake game.
This win was as preordained as any in the tournament's history of squashing underdogs. The Panthers began the season 0-11 and didn't win for the first time until Jan. 6. They were the only team in the field of 64 with a losing record.
Let's face it, they had more of a chance of winning the billion from Warren Buffett. And their bracket was busted early.
The Huskies scored the first 15 points over 5:32 before Prairie View's Gabrielle Scott put it on the board. But things were already spinning out of control by then and it was inevitable that UConn's lead would be 44-12 at the half.
The one thing Prairie View had going for it was experience. This was its fourth straight first-round game against UConn or Baylor. The Panthers also paved the first mile to UConn's 2012 Final Four with an 83-47 loss.
The Huskies hadn't played since wrapping up the American Athletic Conference title against Louisville. In terms of momentum, it was an ill-timed break; the Huskies probably never played better this season than they did in the semifinal and final.
The bright side was it gave them a chance to rest, recharging the batteries of the core six who likely will do most of the lifting for the rest of the way.
Auriemma used all eight scholarship players in the first half, although both Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart logged 18 minutes each.
Hartley scored 13 in the first half, shooting 5 of 7. Dolson added 11 points. And Stewart, who came into the game scoring at least 20 in her last six, had nine rebounds and six points.
UConn was 16-for-28 from the field. It outscored the Panthers 16-0 in the paint, 10-0 off turnovers and 9-0 on second-chance opportunities.
"We wanted to emphasize getting a lot of looks in the paint," Dolson said. "And we did a really good job of that to start until they began to pack it in [defensively] a little more.
The only thing Prairie View did better was force two more turnovers (18-11) than UConn, an incredible statistical aberration considering the final score.
But it didn't matter much since the Panthers were just 16-for-64 from the field, many of their misses long-distance prayers on the business end of the possession clock. And they were outrebounded, 52-28.
And by then, even Brown understood that the power of positive thinking wasn't going to help much.Copyright © 2015, CT Now