The Connecticut Huskies headed to Phoenix, but their sights are set on St. Petersburg.
The top-seeded Huskies scored the first 17 points of the game and cruised into the round of 16 with a 78-56 win over overmatched New Mexico at the West Regional on Saturday.
The Huskies (30-2), seeking their first trip to the Final Four in coach Jim Calhoun's 13 seasons, held the Lobos scoreless for the first 7:12. After that, UConn seemed content to trade baskets the rest of the way with a New Mexico team that has lost four straight second-round games in the NCAA tournament.
"That's two (wins) for us and we earned a trip to Phoenix," Calhoun said of the Huskies' next stop on what they are confident will be their first trip to the Final Four in St. Petersburg at the end of the month.
New Mexico, playing a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, came out tight and wilted early against Connecticut's quickness and man-to-man pressure defense. The Lobos' first 13 possessions produced seven missed shots and seven turnovers before Greg Davis ended the drought with a pair of free throws with 12:48 left.
While New Mexico was feeling the pressure, the Huskies, who are 15-1 in first- and second-round games in their last eight trips to the tournament, were in a comfort zone.
"We came out terrifically, with a good deal of energy, and settled in," Calhoun said.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by All-American Richard Hamilton and guard Khalid El-Amin, both of whom finished with 21 points, set the stage for the rout.
El-Amin, working against New Mexico freshman guard John Robinson, added a short jumper and another 3-pointer in the Huskies' eary run that ended with reserve Edmund Saunders' two free throws for a 17-0 lead with 13:08 left.
"The run at the start dictated the game," said New Mexico coach Dave Bliss. "We started in a zone (on defense) but it wasn't what caused us problems. It was our inability to score. If we make our shots, we have a chance to be a competitive team."
New Mexico's only semblance of that - a 9-0 run - cut the Huskies' lead to 20-11 with 8:55 left, but that would be as close as the Lobos would get on a day when they hit just 15 of 57 shots (26 percent).
New Mexico (25-9) went without a field goal for the first 8:14 and got 11 of their first 18 points from the foul line.
Reserve forward Damion Walker, the Lobos' best offensive weapon most of the day, finished with 21 points. Lamont Long scored 15.
Senior center Kenny Thomas, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, had just one free throw - a career low - and went without a field goal for the first time in his 123 games at New Mexico. He had 11 rebounds.
"I wasn't frustrated," Thomas said. "Just because you don't make the shot doesn't mean you're frustrated. I couldn't make a shot. We couldn't make a shot."
Connecticut's early blitz not only broke New Mexico's will, but it also seemed to take some of the fire out of the Huskies. Despite the obvious mismatch, New Mexico still had faint hopes when it trailed 37-22 at halftime.
That did not please Calhoun, who has been battling a virus this week and wasn't on the bench for Connecticut's first round win over Texas-San Antonio.
"I was really upset about the last 10 minute of the first half because we played so well, got Thomas in foul trouble and (Kevin) Henry, who is a great 3-point shooter in foul trouble," Calhoun said. "I didn't think we took as much advantage as we should."
But the Huskies, who New Mexico coach Dave Bliss noted a day earlier can "pillage and plunder" at will, returned to form with a 13-0 run to start the second half. El-Amin had seven of those points and Hamilton six.
"We came out of the locker room and played with a lot more spirit and that's when we put them away," Calhoun said.
| UConn's Edmund Saunders hustles to grab a rebound. (AP)|
Walker said New Mexico never found a spark.
"Against a team like that, you've got to attack," he said. "You've got to be just as aggressive and just as quick. The fact that it was UConn should have lighted our fire. We came out tentative and that's never good against a team as aggressive as they are."
Connecticut has no reached the round of 16 four times in the '90s. The Huskies also have reached the round of eight three times, the last one coming in 1998, when they were beaten in the regional finals by North Carolina.
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