By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis wanted to make sure the seniors on the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team were sent out the right way in their final game at Gampel Pavilion.
In the process, the sophomore forward got herself into the UConn record books.
Mosqueda-Lewis scored 22 points Monday night and set a school single-season record for 3-point baskets as the top-seeded Huskies advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the 20th consecutive year with a 77-44 win over No. 8 Vanderbilt in a NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional second-round game before a crowd of 4,483.
“She’s done that all year long,” said UConn’s Kelly Faris, who along with fifth-year seniors Caroline Doty and Heather Buck walked off the Gampel court for the last time on the winning side. “She’s made a huge effort to make a difference and not just for herself but for all of us. It’s nothing new, really. Kaleena is just adding on to what she came in with. I’m proud of her.”
UConn (31-4) will face No. 4 Maryland Saturday in a regional semifinal game at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Its streak of Sweet 16 appearance is the longest current run nationally. Stanford is second with five and the Cardinal will try to make it six Tuesday when it entertains Michigan in a Spokane (Wash.) Regional second-round game.
“There are a lot of teams that are fighting to get to the Sweet 16 and a lot of teams that hardly get there or don’t ever get there,” UConn guard Bria Hartley said. “This isn’t easy to do. People might think it is. But it’s a long season and you have to battle every day against every team you’re playing. You can never take it for granted.”
The Huskies defeated Maryland 63-48 at the XL Center in Hartford Dec. 3. UConn has also won seven straight regional final games.
“It’s really hard to do though sometimes we make it look easy,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s hard with players going all over the place and it’s harder than ever to get kids to want to be on a great team because they all want to be the main guy. The players we recruit here, that’s the expectation level. That’s what they want. I don’t have to convince them that this is where you want to be. As long as we can keep bringing in those kind of players, that’s what the expectation level will be.”
Mosqueda-Lewis broke Wendy Davis’ 21-year-old UConn single-season record for 3-pointers when she nailed a trey with 13:13 remaining that brought one of the loudest cheers from the crowd.
The Anaheim Hills, Calif. native has 108 on the season and 201 in two years. The Huskies’ career record for 3-pointers is Diana Taurasi’s 318.
“I thought it was loud just because it was a 3,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It’s special to know that I’m among great players that have come through UConn.”
But Mosqueda-Lewis was thinking more of the seniors than herself Monday night.
“I’m really happy for them,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “The seniors deserve everything they have and more. For us to come out and play as well as we did as a team, that was definitely the way we wanted to send them out.”
For the second straight game, the Huskies did not trail as they scored the first six points Monday night. Ahead 25-20, UConn went on a 12-0 run to take a double-digit advantage. Mosqueda-Lewis scored seven points in the spurt. Vanderbilt got the final four points to account for a 37-24 halftime score.
The Huskies iced it with 17 unanswered points to open the second half as Vanderbilt missed its first 11 shots and had five turnovers. Mosqueda-Lewis’ record-breaking three capped it to give UConn a 30-point lead with 13:13 left.
“You guys saw the score. They are a very good team,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “I thought we competed until halftime. Coming out of the locker room those first four minutes of the second half we were on our heels and they were very, very aggressive.”
Breanna Stewart, who was back in the starting lineup after missing Saturday’s Idaho game with a left calf injury, added 14 points for UConn. Stefanie Dolson chipped in 12 points and nine rebounds while Morgan Tuck had 11 points.
The Huskies have not lost a NCAA tournament game on campus since 1993.
“It’s March. It’s Connecticut basketball time,” Auriemma said “This is when we generally play our best basketball. These two games, obviously you want to win but you also want to play a certain way. Both halves Saturday and the second half tonight was how you want to go into next weekend.”
Tiffany Clarke led Vanderbilt (21-12) with 16 points.