The Huskies held No.1 Baylor’s two All-Americans in check during the first half and ran up an 11-point lead that was surrendered in a hard-fought game, ending with No. 3 UConn’s second loss of the season, 76-70.
Head coach Geno Auriemma said the Huskies need to mature to win such games by playing consistently throughout the entire game.
“Are we ready to win this kind of game? Yeah, we could have easily won this game, but weren’t smart enough to win it yet,” he said. “Individually our team has to understand that based on us as individuals, we’re not good enough to beat this team. It’s got to be a collective effort like the first 15 minutes of the first half. It’s got to be our team against their team. That kind of went away in the second half.”
He said there was no better example than the Huskies’ effort at trapping All-American center Brittney Griner in the first half, forcing her to pass the ball off, something that did not continue in the second half.
Griner was limited to 4 points in the first half, by Stefanie Dolson ’14 (CLAS), with help from other Huskies, however Baylor continued to feed the ball into Griner in the second half and she finished the game with 25 points. Baylor also was able to get layups after pulling down missed shots as the Huskies were caught out of position.
“I thought Stefanie played great, but she didn’t get any help,” Auriemma said of Dolson, who scored 11 points and had 8 rebounds. “Nobody’s going to guard Brittney Griner by yourself. We left people open. I thought Stefanie was spectacular.”
Kaleena Mosequda-Lewis ’15 (CLAS) led all scorers with 26 points and 15 rebounds, hitting 11 of 14 shots. Bria Hartley ’14 (CLAS) had 13 points and freshman Morgan Tuck had 11 points and 5 rebounds.
“The first half I really didn’t have a good half,” Griner said. “I had to come out in the second half a little more aggressive to help my team.”
“I think Baylor did a great job of pressuring us and they got us rattled a few times,” Dolson said. “That is something we are going to have to work on…keeping our composure and make sure that we stick together and never stop moving. We need to make sure that we are running our plays correctly, listening to each other and talking to each other.”
Added Mosqueda-Lewis: “It seems like every big game we come into, we get up, we hit them in the mouth first, but we come up short. Once their team turns up the volume it seems like we don’t recover from it. Until we change our attitudes or something we are just going to keep getting the same result in big games like this.”
Forward Brooklyn Pope picked up many of Baylor’s missed shots and put them back on the way to scoring 18 points and getting 9 rebounds. Guard Kimetria Hayden added 11 points. All-American guard Odyssey Sims finished with 9 points, after having just 2 points in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought the first half these two All-Americans were 3 for 19 and we were only down three,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “I’ve never seen the two of them have two bad halves. I told them keep throwing [Griner] the ball.”
Mulkey expanded on her pre-game comments about nationally ranked teams playing a game of such high interest as the regular season draws down to a close when a team’s priority is to win its conference.
“I said before the game this was a great game for women’s basketball, but this game not going to knock Geno out of a number one seed. It’s not going guarantee us an overall No. 1 seed. It’s not going to be a game that we get on the plane and celebrate that we just beat UConn,” she said. “It gave us a gauge of what to expect. It will help improve his team and my team… Thank goodness we played this game, but don’t make it bigger than winning the Big East or the Big 12.”
Aureimma agreed, saying: “This is why you want to play these games at this time of year. If we didn’t play this game, we might beat someone 100-30 and think we’re good. I can’t think of anything better to do at this point of the season. It’s going to help you; there’s no way it can’t help you. If I didn’t think it wouldn’t help I wouldn’t do it.”
UConn is 24-2 overall, 11-1 in the Big East, while Baylor improves to 25-1 and 14-0 in the Big 12.
NOTES: Moriah Jefferson ’16 (CLAS), who had 2 points and 2 assists in 13 minutes against Balyor, was named to the Big East Honor Roll for averaging 11.5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals while shooting 69.2 percent from the field during games last week… Maya Moore ’11 (CLAS) of the Minnesota Lynx drew a loud cheer as she was seen on the overhead screen at the XL Center. On Saturday Moore played in the Celebrity All-Star Game that was part of the NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston.