On his 59th birthday, UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t about to let the Idaho Vandals even spell the word “upset.”
Auriemma’s Huskies made that clear seconds into Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Round of 64 game, when it took UConn all of two seconds to get on the board.
They’d do so six more times before the Vandals finally managed a bucket, but by then the rout was on and it was simply a waiting game for Idaho, who would conclude its season with a 105-37 loss in Storrs, Conn.
The seven-time national champions forced Idaho into 21 turnovers, shot 60 percent from the field while holding Idaho to 26 percent, and Auriemma would live to see another day in his 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
“I’ll tell you what, you think about coming in and playing UConn, then seeing them up close and in person, we certainly got the full show,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “I thought they shot the ball extremely well. Their pressure certainly took us out of our game.”
Even without 6-foot-4 freshman forward Breanna Stewart, the Huskies’ frontcourt posed a nightmarish challenge for the undersized Vandals, while UConn’s backcourt pestered Idaho at every opportunity.
Still on a high from its WAC championship run, Idaho ran into a program that only Pat Summit and the Tennessee Volunteers rival when it comes to the nation’s women’s basketball giants.
Though the Huskies would go on to score 47 of their points in the second half, it was also the period when Auriemma’s side would let off the gas. In the first half, Idaho was forced into 17 of its 21 turnovers and the Vandals were good for just seven field goals.
“Honestly, it’s like you’re on the floor with John Wooden,” Newlee said. “That is what he has done in the women’s basketball game. It is beyond respect what I have for Geno and what he has done for women’s basketball. I feel like in a way, he has taken it into such a level for women’s basketball and you think women’s basketball, excellence, national championships. It is amazing what he has done.”
After UConn’s 58-point first half, the Huskies were on pace to breeze past the record for biggest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game. The record, which sits at 74 points, was set by Tennessee in a victory against North Carolina A&T in 1994.
UConn led Idaho 96-22 with almost four minutes remaining before Vandal sophomore Stacey Barr and junior Alyssa Charlston cashed in five consecutive 3-pointers.
“I don’t think any one of us were aware of that streak and just wanted to play basketball. It is kind of nice not to be put in the record books for that,” Barr said. “We came out after half time with a few goals. The minimum was to keep them off the boards and in the second-half we did better. I think we accomplished the goals we set at half time.”
For the Vandals, it was their biggest margin of defeat in an NCAA Tournament game — Idaho’s only other appearance in the tournament came in 1985 when the Vandals fell 74-51 to Cheryl Miller’s USC Trojans.
Barr was Idaho’s only player to score in double figures and the Melbourne, Australia, native tallied 14 points despite playing with four fouls. Charlston had six points and three blocks for Idaho.
The blowout loss wouldn’t put a complete damper on a season that saw the Vandals earn their first WAC championship.
“We’ve learned so much throughout the season. We have had heart-breaking losses, we’ve had ups and downs, luckily at the end of the WAC we came out on top and that was extremely exciting,” Charlston said. “Coming out here we had a great experience with what top of the nation basketball looks like.”
Idaho returns all five starters next season, and will only lose seniors Jessica Graham and Ana Overgaard. Graham played a crucial role off the bench for the Vandals while Overgaard earned her scholarship with the program after walking on to the team two years ago.
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org