UConn coach Geno Auriemma was a bit concerned about how this group of Huskies might respond to the pressure of the NCAA Tournament.
He needn’t have worried.
Few teams can match the strength and athleticism of Connecticut’s front court and Vermont was not one of those teams.
Aaliyah Edwards scored a career-high 28 points, Dorka Juhasz added a double-double, and the second-seeded Huskies routed the 15th-seeded Catamounts, 95-52, on Saturday, giving Connecticut a 29th straight win in the tournament’s opening round.
“From the jump ball I knew personally, individually that I’d be able to dominate inside,” Edwards said. “And I think Dorka held her own too and I think we just flowed together as a team.”
Juhasz scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, the Hungarian’s 13th double-double this season for the sixth-ranked Huskies.
Milton’s Caroline Ducharme, who was a two-time Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year at Noble & Greenough, added 12 points, helping Connecticut (30-5) to its 26th 30-win season during Geno Auriemma’s 38 years as coach.
Catherine Gilwee scored 14 points, while Emma Utterback and Maria Myklebust each had 13 for Vermont (25-7), which had its 17-game winning streak snapped.
UConn will play either No. 7 seed Baylor or 10th-seeded Alabama on Monday.
This was the fourth straight game the Huskies have had 10 available players, after spending much of the season with just seven.
“Having some of the wing players that we have now, when the defense runs back they have to run wide,” Auriemma said. “When we didn’t have them, the defense just ran back into the lane. "
Azzi Fudd (5 points), who missed 22 games, including the final 14 of the regular season with knee injuries, made her first start since Dec. 4 and scored the first basket on a short jumper from the lane. That started a 7-0 run and the Huskies never trailed.
Edwards had 12 of her points in the first 10 minutes as the Huskies led 27-12 after a quarter.
UConn took its first 20-point lead at 32-12 and a fast-break layup from Aubrey Griffin made it 48-18. The Huskies shot 67% over the first 20 minutes (62% for the game) and it was 53-20 at halftime.
The Huskies extended that to as many as 46 in the second half.
Vermont: The Catamounts last lost on Jan. 1 to UMBC. Vermont’s defense had been holding opponents to an average of 52.8 points per game. UConn had 53 at the half.
“Seventeen games in a row to get here is pretty hard to do,” Vermont coach Alisa Kresge said. “There’s some really good things that we can take from this game and stuff that we’re going to build off to build our program.”
UConn: This is UConn’s 34th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where they are now an almost incomprehensible 131-22. The Huskies improve to 22-4 as a No. 2 seed.
The Huskies outscored Vermont 54-10 in the paint, outrebounded the Catamounts 43-19 and had 27 assists on 39 field goals. Nika Muhl had 10 of those.
UConn’s Lou Lopez Senechal (9 points) left the game with a leg injury in the third quarter. She jogged off the court, but did not return to the game. Griffin, who has been suffering from back spasms, played just 6½ minutes. Auriemma said both sat as a precaution and could have returned.
Vermont: With a young team, coach Alisa Kresge is hoping for more success next season, though she is aware that with the portal, some of her players may be given opportunities at larger schools.
“When you make it to the big dance obviously you’re in the spotlight,” she said. “At the end of the day we’re going to stay true to who we are and we take care of people and we give everything to them. If they decide that they need something else, I’ll be their biggest supporter.”
UConn: The Huskies haven’t lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 1992 and will be looking to make a 29th appearance in the Sweet 16.