Less than 24 hours earlier, St. John's junior guard Latasha Thompson raised eyebrows and shot herself into the Big East record books with 25 points in the first half en route to a career-high 33 points in the Red Storm's 75-62 win over No. 8 Pittsburgh in the first round of the Big East Tournament Saturday afternoon.
While the fans, media and Big East officials took notice of Thompson, Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma did as well. The top-seeded Huskies rarely gave Thompson an open look from outside and then stole the ball early and often as UConn cruised to an 85-41 win over the eighth-seeded Red Storm in front of 10,027 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., Sunday afternoon. It was the Huskies turn to enter the tournament record books with the 44-point margin of victory.
Connecticut (28-1), ranked No. 1 in the country, advanced to the Big East semis to take on No. 4 seed Boston College Monday afternoon while the St. John's season ends at 11-18.
"We definitely didn't want to give her 33 points against us," said Shea Ralph, the Big East Player of the Year. "It's March now, we have to play our A-game."
Ralph extended her team-lead in steals with three against the Red Storm for a season total of 74. Ralph added 12 points and four assists.
Thompson, who, a day earlier, was speaking about how she should have gotten a post season award, was held to just three points on 1-11 shooting. Thompson also turned the ball over four times.
"UConn saw us play yesterday," Thompson said. "They were able to pack it in and caused us to shoot from outside more."
After holding the Red Storm in the game three weeks ago (an 85-43 win at Alumni Hall), the Huskies were all business and blew St. John's out early, going on a 14-0 run early, including four straight buckets from steals, to take an 18-point lead, 22-4, less than nine minutes into the game.
The Connecticut defense was at the top of its game, scoring 34 points off St. John's 25 turnovers.
"Our focus in practice has been defense-oriented," Auriemma said. "I think that got us going."
"They're the number one team for a reason," said St. John's head coach Darcel Estep. "They're very balanced and very aggressive. As a team they do a lot of things well."
Defense was not the only area in which UConn excelled. Led by Svetlana Abrosimova's 10 rebounds, UConn dominated the boards, 41-26, and outscored the Red Storm, 52-14, in the paint.
Abrosimova added 12 points and seven assists for the Huskies. Tamika Williams and Swin Cash led the way for UConn with 14 points apiece. Christ the King grad Sue Bird had seven points and three assists for UConn.
"Sue and Kennitra [Johnson] are being much more aggressive with the ball and that's made us a better team," Auriemma said.
Tynisha Myles had 11 points and nine rebounds for St. John's. Angela Stith also had 11 points for the Red Storm.
Despite the loss, Estep say she believes the season wasn't a total loss.
"I don't want to take this one game as an example of the way we played this year," said the first-year head coach. "This team has been inconsistent, but I don't want to let it be 'you're as good as your last game.' This team had to get acclimated with a new staff, a new philosophy. They had a slow start, but I'm proud of what they've accomplished and we're going to build off it."
St. John's 75, Pittsburgh 62. Thompson stole the show for the Red Storm in the opening round game Saturday, setting a career-high with 33 points and six assists. Thompson, who led the Red Storm in scoring with a 12.8 average, was left off all of the three All-Big East teams.
"Not receiving an award, I knew I had to prove to everyone that I did deserve an award," she said after the game.
Also conspicuously missing from the All-Big East rookie team was Red Storm sophomore Aiysha Smith. The first-year forward led the Big East with eight double-doubles, but was omitted from the team.
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