HARTFORD, Conn. — Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer knew that her team squandered a good chance to beat UConn.
The Scarlet Knights held the Huskies to their lowest offensive output of the season, but just couldn't muster enough points to end a nine-game losing streak to Connecticut.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 15 of her 17 points in the first half and the fourth-ranked Huskies beat No. 23 Rutgers 49-34 on Sunday night in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
"You always feel like you lost an opportunity," Stringer said. "I was extremely proud of my team as they played in the image and tradition of a Scarlet Knight. We played extremely hard. I can't say that I've seen a team play harder. There is no question we would have liked to take a few possessions back of course."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma figured his defense would have to come up big against the Scarlet Knights.
"We talked all day long about how difficult the Rutgers games are and how they all have the same pattern," he said. "It doesn't matter when you play them or where you play them. All games take on a similar characteristic, it's difficult to get shots, difficult to get things flowing in a sustainable way. Compound that by the number of open shots we missed today, it was a lot. Add all those things together and our defense had to win it for us."
A month earlier, the Huskies had their way with the Scarlet Knights, winning 66-34. In that game, Rutgers was missing Khadijah Rushdan, who was sidelined with a concussion.
With their senior leader back, they put up a much better fight.
"She brings a level of confidence to everyone that is out there," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "She makes all the difference in the world."
It was the Huskies' first victory since 2004 when they scored fewer than 50 points. The win gives the third-seeded team a rematch with second-seed St. John's in the semifinals Monday night. The Red Storm ended the Huskies' 99-game home winning streak on Feb. 18. UConn then lost to No. 3 Notre Dame last Monday night, marking the first time in 19 years the Huskies dropped consecutive home games.
"You never want someone to come into your house and beat you the way they did," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "They just came in there and they played St. John's basketball and we didn't play Connecticut basketball. It's going to be different tomorrow. We're going to be a whole 'nother team that St. John's is going to be playing"
With the victory, UConn avoided seeing two more of its streaks end. The Huskies still haven't lost consecutive games in 19 years. They also haven't been beaten three straight times at home since that same season.
UConn is looking to extend its streak of winning either the Big East regular season or tournament title for a 19th-straight year. The last time the Huskies were a three seed in 2005, they won the tournament.
Erica Wheeler scored 13 points to lead the Scarlet Knights (21-9), but she missed 17 of her 21 shots. Wheeler left the court in a wheelchair because of dehydration, but was fine after the game.
Trailing by 17 late in the first half, Rutgers went on a 13-4 run spanning halftime to pull to 34-26 on Wheeler's jumper with 12:52 left. Rushdan had four points during the spurt and finished the game with 10 points. The Scarlet Knights held UConn without a point for 7½ minutes. Stefanie Dolson finally ended the drought with a putback.
After Rushdan took a hard spill, banging her head, she hit a jumper to make it 36-28.
That's as close as the Scarlet Knights would get as Bria Hartley and Tiffany Hayes hit back-to-back 3s to make it a 14-point game. Rutgers would get no closer than eight the rest of the game.
"We played an amazing game of defense, we communiated a lot on defense and helped each other with screens," Dolson said. "We did a great job doing that and really playing defense for the entire 30 seconds and finishing it with a rebound."
The Huskies, who lead the nation giving up just under 46 points a game and field goal defense, held the Scarlet Knights to 24 percent shooting. That helped offset a subpar offensive night by UConn, which shot just 33 percent from the field.
Mosqueda-Lewis helped the Huskies jump out to an early lead. The Big East conference's sixth-man of the year and freshman of the year had 15 points, hitting five 3-pointers in the span of 9 minutes. Her back-to-back 3s made it 28-13 with 3:16 left in the half.
The Huskies led 30-18 at the break as the freshman guard made five of her seven shots and the rest of the team was 4 for 18.
"It was hard, we were just in the wrong position to be able to contest her shots," Rutgers center Monique Oliver said. "She just kept hitting them. We played better defense in the second half to contest her shots."