BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- After a night of upsets and complete tournament mayhem, some might have been wondering if the collapse of No. 1 seeds South Carolina and Notre Dame meant that UConn also is vulnerable. Breanna Stewart seemed to be on a mission to dispel those thoughts from the opening tip.
Stewart was dominant early, having her way on both ends of the floor in a 98-38 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday. She finished with 22 points, leading all scorers. She also added 14 rebounds and five blocks in just 25 minutes. Normally relatively stoic and unassuming, Stewart was full of emotion (at least by her standards).
In a telling moment, Stewart caught the ball on a fast break and squared up at the 3-point line. Instead of shooting, she quickly dumped a pass to Morgan Tuck, who finished the layup. Looking at her teammates, she clapped and shouted, "Let's go!" amid the screaming crowd.
It was that kind of day for the Huskies. They came out looking to make a statement, and were hugely successful in that aim. The 60-point margin of victory was the largest in Sweet 16 history.
Player of the game: Tuck had an excellent game with 19 points, six rebounds and shooting 70 percent from the floor. Katie Lou Samuelson also played well, netting 21 points while shooting 9-of-14 from the field. It was Stewart, however, with her physical play and emotional leadership from the tip, who set the pace for this game. By halfway through the second quarter she already had a double-double. As if that weren't enough, she peppered five blocks. All of them happened to be massive. These weren't just fingertips on the ball; she flat-out swatted shots all over the floor.
How it was won: UConn smothered Mississippi State on the defensive end, holding the Bulldogs to 28.6 percent from the field and forcing 18 turnovers. That enabled Connecticut to get out in transition early in the first half, creating a chasm from which Mississippi State could never recover.
Turning point: Once the ball was tipped and Stewart hit her opening 3-point shot, it was clear this game meant something more to the Huskies. In a rare display of swagger, Stewart held her follow through before throwing it down with a little hop as the ball dropped through the net. The shot ignited a 13-0 run to open the game.
X factor: The Friday night upsets changed the tenor of this game. Suddenly, it wasn't just a Sweet 16 matchup, another game along UConn's path to the Final Four. Once the two primary challengers to UConn went down, the Huskies could have been complacent, but instead it seemed as if those losses morphed into a challenge of their own dominance and stability. Consequently, they came out hungry with their foot on the gas from the jump.
Stat of the day: The Bulldogs entered this game as the sixth-best team in turnover margin. On Saturday, however, they were minus-8, with 12 of their 18 turnovers coming in the first half.
What's next: The Huskies face the winner of the matchup between No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 seed Texas. The key for them will be to maintain their hunger and focus in the face of a now seemingly clear path to a fourth straight national title.