STORRS - Saniya Chong had taken her seat on the UConn women’s basketball team bench but was ready to jump out of it.
Chong’s senior classmate, Tierney Lawlor, appeared to have an opening for a 3-point shot as time wound down on the top-seeded Huskies’ 94-64 rout of No. 8 Syracuse in a NCAA Tournament second-round game at Gampel Pavilion. But the Ansonia native, who is 0-for-8 from the floor this season, passed it up.
“I wanted to run out there and scream in T’s face, ‘Why didn’t you shoot that?’ ” Chong said with a smile.
“It wasn’t there. I didn’t think I had it,” Lawlor explained.
But the seniors aren’t done in Connecticut, at least. UConn (34-0) will take on No. 4 UCLA in a regional semifinal game Saturday at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena.
“It’s sad that it’s their last game at Gampel but we sent them out on a good note,” UConn forward Napheesa Collier said.
Chong and Lawlor became the second class in UConn history to go four years without losing a home game, finishing 62-0, with the first being the Class of 2011 of Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon.
They are also 150-1 since their arrival here, tying the Moore/Dixon class for second in wins in NCAA history. UConn’s Class of 2016 - Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck - won 151 games. The Class of 2017 will be the leader in winning percentage regardless of what happens to the Huskies the rest of the way.
“To be mentioned with Maya Moore in anything is amazing,” Chong said. “I’m just happy to be here and to be part of the history we’re making doing something that I love.”
Chong did not score Monday night but had seven assists in 31 minutes. Lawlor did record her third steal of the season.
While the Ossining, New York native admitted to being emotional leaving the court for the final time, Lawlor was stoic.
“I was excited, we won, and it was a great team effort,” she said. “I’ll miss it. But I’m not an emotional person.”
Chong will receive her bachelor’s degree in sociology in May, while Lawlor’s degree will be in her personalized major of sustainable farm and ranch management.
While they have a lot to look forward to, they took a moment to look back.
“I’m happy. I’m happy that I made this choice,” Chong said. “These four years have gone by so fast but I’m happy with the memories that I have and the friends I’ve made. I’ve grown up a lot these past four years. Without the help of my coaches and teammates, I don’t know where I’d be.”
“It’s been great and a lot of fun,” Lawlor said. “I’ve met a lot of great people. Working with Saniya these past four years, living with her, hanging out, has been great. My teammates are great and I am so grateful for the experiences that I’ve had.”
Syracuse seniors Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes were the last two players in the postgame handshake line. As the UConn coaches and players made their way through, Geno Auriemma and his staff and several players gave the Syracuse standouts hugs
“They played their butts off,” Collier said. “We were saying, from one player to the other, ‘Good game.’ ”
Peterson, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, had 25 points Monday night while Sykes added 15.
“Players that come in and play that way save your program and they elevated ours to another level,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said.
The Orange have made five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Last year they got past the second round for the first time and reached the final before losing to UConn in Indianapolis.
“What they did should not go unnoticed and that’s what our coaches wanted to emphasize,” UConn forward Gabby Williams said. “What they did at Syracuse is incredible. They’ve played their butts off and you have to admire that.”
On the attack
Katie Lou Samuelson hit the floor going for the ball after the opening tip and got up holding her neck. Later, she could have used some ice bags after taking a few hits to the face on drives to the basket.
“I was a little worried I’d get some bruises,” Samuelson said. “The time I got hit in the nose I was waiting for it to start bleeding. And starting off the game it was my neck. It was just a tough game and we respect how physical they play. It was all on the court and nothing personal.”
Samuelson set career highs in free throws made (11) and attempted (13) in scoring 23 points Monday night.
“We’re both aggressive teams,” Samuelson said. “Their defense, they put it all on the line and sometimes things might get chippy or rough. But you’re right there to pick that player up. You know it’s just in the game.”
The sophomore guard missed last year’s NCAA final after breaking her left foot against Oregon State two days earlier so she was excited to get a shot at the Orange.
“It was a little extra motivation for me,” Samuelson said. “Our whole team was ready to go and we knew from last year that we had to be. We knew we had to come out strong.”
UConn has won 35 straight games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents … The Huskies are 3-0 against UCLA all time with the last meeting an 86-50 win at Mohegan Sun Arena on Dec. 21, 2014. The Bruins will host UConn at Pauley Pavilion next season … The Pac-12 has the most representatives in the Sweet 16 (5) while the ACC has three and the SEC, Big 12, and Big 10 two each … Samuelson and Williams each have 1,117 career points after each scored 23 Monday.