UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t quite sure how his young Huskies, including seven freshmen, would respond to their first postseason experience together.
The answer was pretty much as usual.
Freshman Paige Bueckers scored 17 points and top-ranked Connecticut cruised to a 77-41 rout of St. John’s in the Big East quarterfinals on Saturday.
Christyn Williams added 14 points for the Huskies (22-1). Olivia Nelson-Ododa collected each of her 10 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.
The biggest trouble for UConn occurred in the third quarter, when freshman guard Nika Muhl (five points, four rebounds) twisted her left ankle while making a pass. She had to be helped to the locker room and came back to the bench a few minutes later on crutches.
“Nika’s a pretty tough kid, as tough as they come,” Auriemma said. “Nika’s going to give it every opportunity overnight and she’s going to try to play. And if she doesn’t play, it’s because it’s serious.”
UConn put the game away early. The Huskies’ first four baskets were layups, and they were ahead 18-6 after 10 minutes.
Connecticut continued a 15-2 run into the second quarter and outscored the Red Storm 24-6 in the paint over the first 20 minutes, led by Nelson-Ododa’s seventh double-double of the season.
“We wanted to get into our transition offense as much as possible, kind of get our pace up and kind of run teams like back at the beginning (of the season),” the junior said.
UConn led 38-15 at the break and 63-28 after three quarters.
The Huskies outscored the Johnnies 30-6 on the break after scoring just two fast-break points in their regular-season finale against Marquette.
“We just wanted to key in on our defense,” Bueckers said. “Because in reality our defense really sets well for our offense, transitions well. If you set the tone on defense, it makes the offense a whole lot easier.”
Leilani Correa and Unique Drake each had seven points for St. John’s. The Red Storm, who lost to UConn 94-62 and 77-32 during the regular season, finish their campaign at 8-15.
“The fact that we got to this point is probably one of the bigger wins we’ve had,” coach Joe Tartamella said. “We played more games than a lot of teams. Our kids did a really good job staying safe.”
St. John’s: The Red Storm, who beat Xavier 65-57 on Friday, have won their Big East opening-round game each time they have been an eight seed, but have fallen in the quarterfinals all five times. They have not won two games in the tournament since winning the championship in 2016.
UConn: The Huskies have made the semifinals of a conference tournament every year since 1988, when they lost to Boston College in the first round. UConn has now won 158 straight games against conference opponents since losing to Notre Dame in the Big East title game in 2013.
UConn’s freshmen combined for 38 points and 17 rebounds, led by Bueckers. Auriemma said more importantly, all his freshmen played with poise.
“That was pretty cool to see that they just played like it was a basketball game that we had to win,” he said.
UConn sophomore Anna Makurat returned to the court after being sidelined for 13 games with a stress fracture in her right leg. She did not score in 11 minutes, but pulled down three rebounds.
UConn will play Sunday against the winner of the quarterfinal between DePaul and Villanova.