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No. 1 UConn outduels No. 5 Iowa in battle of freshmen phenoms to advance to women's Elite 8

Analis Bailey, USA TODAY
·2 min read
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Connecticut is back in the Elite 8 for its 15th consecutive appearance after rolling past Iowa Saturday, 92-72, in the 2021 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

UConn's Paige Bueckers, a front-runner for national player of the year as a freshman, and Iowa freshman Cailtin Clark, the NCAA Division I scoring leader, were poised to steal the show in this highly anticipated Sweet 16 tip-off, but beating the No. 5-seeded Hawkeyes was a complete team effort by the Huskies.

UConn guard Christyn Willams, a former No. 1 recruit, led the team with 27 points, and Bueckers showed her all-around game with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Guard Evina Westbrook (17 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists) was just one rebound shy of a triple-double, and freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards shined early and ended with 18 points.

Connecticut's players Paige Bueckers (5) , Christyn Williams (13) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (20) celebrate after beating Iowa in the Sweet 16.
Connecticut's players Paige Bueckers (5) , Christyn Williams (13) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (20) celebrate after beating Iowa in the Sweet 16.

“The fact there was so much hype on those two kids — part of it was unfair and comes with the territory,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Like I told the team before the game, in all these matchups, it comes (down) to somebody else.

"Our defense as bad as it was at times, was really, really good when it had to be. Christyn Williams, Evina Westbrook and Olivia (Nelson-Ododa), our three juniors were amazing — played the way you wanted your upperclassmen to play. It was not going to be easy on either Caitlyn or Paige to play their normal game."

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The Hawkeyes showed their worth in spurts, climbing within single digits three times in the third quarter and twice in the fourth. But all the Huskies weren't going to stay quiet on this day. Consecutive 3-pointers from Bueckers and UConn's fourth-quater run allowed the Huskies to pull away.

Clark led Iowa with 21 points, 5 assists and three rebounds. After a 2-for-11 first half where her only trey was an awkward bank shot, Clark erupted for 12 third-quarter points, ending a decorated freshman season. McKenna Warnock racked up a season-high 20 points, and Monika Czinano added 14.

This victory was Auriemma's first game on the sidelines in the NCAA Tournament after missing the first two rounds after testing positive for COVID-19 on March 14.

UConn will play No. 2 seed Baylor on Monday.

Contact Analis Bailey at aabailey@usatoday.com or on Twitter @analisbailey.

Contributing: Dargan Southard, the Des Moines Register, and the Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paige Bueckers, UConn beats Cailtin Clark, Iowa in women's Sweet 16