BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Connecticut freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had a stellar NCAA tournament debut.
Mosqueda-Lewis scored 21 points to help top-seeded UConn beat Prairie View A&M 83-47 on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA women's tournament. She matched the school record set by Jamelle Elliott in 1993 for points by a Huskies player in her first tournament game.
"I know Coach Jamelle. She's awesome," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "She recruited me while I was in high school and to share this with her and to know her personally is really awesome. It's definitely pretty special. To play this well as I did in my first game as a freshman is awesome. It feels good."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma was expecting his phone to light up with messages from Elliott, a longtime assistant with the Huskies before leaving to coach Cincinnati. He was impressed by Mosqueda-Lewis' play.
"She's pretty efficient with her shots," Auriemma said. "She doesn't need a lot of shots and that's one thing that maybe helps her score a lot of points quickly. She takes advantage of the opportunities she gets. Going forward, if she plays like this every night, we have a chance."
Bria Hartley added 18 points and Stefanie Dolson had all 15 of her points in the first half for the Huskies (30-4), who will face eighth-seeded Kansas State in the second round Monday night. The Wildcats beat Princeton 67-64.
The Huskies hadn't played since winning the Big East championship game March 6. They showed little rust on offense, but took a half to get back to playing superior defense. Connecticut leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just under 46 points per game.
Latia Williams scored 20 points to lead 16th-seeded Prairie View (17-16).
UConn led 46-32 at halftime before scoring 26 of the next 32 points to break the game open. Mosqueda-Lewis had 11 points and Hartley nine during the burst.
The Huskies led by as many as 37 and held the Lady Panthers to just 15 points in the second half.
"Mosqueda-Lewis came out and started the second half and really dominated the game," Prairie View coach Toyelle Wilson said. "We couldn't score the second half and if you can't score in a game against UConn, you can't win the game."
UConn scored the game's first eight points and looked poised for another first-round blowout. Since winning the first of their seven national championships in 1995, the Huskies have won their first-round games by an average of 48 points.
The Lady Panthers refused to go away quietly in the first half.
After they missed their first five shots, Jeanette Jackson got them on the board, banking in a 3-pointer from 30 feet as the shot clock was expiring. That seemed to loosen up the Lady Panthers, who played the Huskies nearly even for the rest of the half.
Trailing by 13, Prairie View cut its deficit to eight. UConn then scored 11 of the next 13 points, including five by Mosqueda-Lewis to push the lead up to 29-12.
The Lady Panthers then started hitting shots from all over the court to trail only 46-32 at the break. It was a much better showing than last season in the NCAA tournament when Prairie View lost to Baylor 66-30. The Lady Panthers scored just eight points in the first half of that game to set an NCAA tournament record for futility.
After playing 17 minutes in the first half, Tiffany Hayes sat out the second half for UConn. The senior guard had been sidelined a few days with a stress injury in her right foot. She hadn't practiced until Thursday, but had gone the last two days.
"It's good," Hayes said. "It's definitely just a matter of resting it, so if there is pain — you have to rest it as much as there is pain. They're just trying to get me ready for the next game so as we keep going, if we keep moving on it won't get worse than when it's feeling good."
This is the Huskies' 24th straight trip to the NCAA tournament and they've made it to at least the regional semifinals the last 18 years.
Prairie View A&M was making its fourth appearance in the NCAA tournament in the past six seasons. The Lady Panthers are still looking for the school's first victory.
"Next year we will get the win, I guarantee you that," Williams said.
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