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UConn cruises past Marquette into 18th straight conference tournament final

Evina Westbrook said that her University of Connecticut women’s basketball team wasn’t clicking on offense during Sunday’s Big East Tournament semifinal against Marquette University, but it did have two things going for it: aggressive defense and a deeper rotation.

“That first five is out there and then, that second five comes in,” Westbrook said. “It’s really hard for a team like Marquette. They’re only playing seven, eight people. They’re already tired.”

Nine UConn players logged at least 15 minutes in a 71-51 erasing of Marquette Sunday. The win put UConn in its 18th straight conference tournament final, giving it a shot at its ninth straight conference tournament championship.

Head coach Geno Auriemma said he’s more excited about how the team looks now than the fact that the Huskies have made their 18th straight Big East Tournament championship game.

“It’s taken a long time to get back there,” Auriemma told reporters after the game. “We’ve never taken [conference tournament success] for granted, but I know when I see it and I know a lot of people watching were like, ‘This is what I’m used to seeing UConn do in past years.’”

The Huskies were short on talent earlier in the season when sophomore Paige Bueckers and freshman Azzi Fudd missed time due to injury, causing the team to go 3-4 in a seven-game stretch.

But now that the team is healthy, it’s back to being dominant. Depth was key to UConn stopping a 7-2 spurt by Marquette in the second half on Sunday. That’s when Westbrook, a senior, drilled two three-point baskets to put away Marquette for good.

“Our defense really held it down and I feel like we’re really starting to understand ourselves defensively and it’s coming together at the right time,” said Westbrook, who scored a team-high 14 points for UConn.

Marquette shot 31 percent from the field and was edged in defensive rebounds 33-23. Overall, Marquette scored just 51 points a day after it put up 105 in a quarterfinal win against DePaul University.

“Their physicality gets people out of their offense and makes it harder to get the ball on the wings and just pushes you out more in the post,” said Marquette guard Karissa McLaughlin, who scored 15 points Sunday.

UConn advanced to the Big East Tournament final against the team it beat last year to win the conference. The Huskies topped Marquette 73-39 a year ago.

They’ll next play Villanova University, who beat Seton Hall University on Sunday evening 64-55. The Big East Tournament final tips off at 8 p.m. Monday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.
Joe Amon is a Visuals Editor with Connecticut Public’s Visuals department. As a photojournalist he has covered breaking news, sports and long form storytelling across the United States.

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