Baylor hands Huskies first loss, breaks home win streak
HARTFORD - It was hardly an unusual scene for a UConn women’s basketball game – fans filing out in mass midway through the fourth quarter. But, the circumstances? Pretty rare. In fact you can take on Jeopardy genius Ken Jennings if you can remember this scenario.
The multitudes that trudged up and down the steps of the XL Center and out into the frigid air Thursday night did so in defeat for the first time in almost seven years. It wasn’t exactly a down-to-the-wire job either as bigger and better No. 6 Baylor ran away and hid in the fourth quarter for a 74-58 vicory over the top-ranked Huskies.
UConn last lost at home on Mar. 12, 2013 to Notre Dame, 73-72, running off 98 wins in row at Gampel Pavilion and the XL Center.
Don’t let the final margin ruin your morning breakfast, or having you hide your Huskie hoody. This was a one-point game with 6:36 left only to see the Huskies devastated by a miserable quarter even more rare than losing at home.
UConn shot 2-of-18 in the final eight minutes and scored just six points. Baylor ran off 15 straight points while the Huskies went scoreless for 5:46. It was as ugly as it sounds.
“We played three great quarters of basketball and the fourth quarter was a letdown,” said UConn guard Crystal Dangerfield. “(The fourth quarter) was a lot of things, shots not going in, open shots that we were not getting there were other things where we weren’t getting in our offense. I’ll take responsibility for that. We were right there getting stops but not able to go down the offense and score."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma blamed a lack of maturity for the meltdown.
“We have a really young team. Young in terms of being able to play in this kind of game and they don’t know how to play in this kind of game,” said Auriemma. “I don’t care whether it’s Kyla (Irwin) or Chrystyn (Williams) or…. They don’t know how to play in this type of game where you are counting on people to make shots that other people used to make for them. So we’re kind of immature in that way.
So in the fourth quarter we got four stops in a row and it was a one-point game and we came out empty handed in all four of those possessions. I think if we had scored on three of the four possessions the game would have taken a different turn. But we are just not capable of making those plays yet. And the shot we got, some looked like a shooting drill because we were wide open. “
The outcome seemed to turn starting with the last play of the third quarter. Trailing, 55-52, the Huskies ran the clock down and Megan Walker was wide open on a back-door cut but missed the layup.
The Huskies Christyn Williams then missed a layup to start the fourth quarter. Then came four defensive stops with no points, including one possession in which the Huskies got the ball back four times. UConn never recovered.
"You have to capitalize on that," said Dangerfield. "A team like that that can score the ball like they do and then we go down on the offensive end and don't score, take the advangtage and push the lead out. I think we were down one at that point. We push the lead out to six or seven and you're in better shape."
UConn led, 18-13, after the first quarter and the difference was never more than eight points throughout the game Baylor holding leads of 33-25 in the second quarter and 55-47 in the third quarter. The Bears’ firepower came from Te’a Cooper who led all scorers with 27 points including a quartet of three-pointers, and Nylyssa Smith who tossed in 20 points. Lauren Cox added 16.
Williams and Walker carried the UConn offense with 21 and 18 points respectively while Dangerfield came on to score 16, 13 in the second half. But Huskie starters Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Kyla Irwin were shut out, going a combined 0-for-12 from the floor.
“This game is where Liv (Nelson-Ododa) is right now,” said Auriemma. “Will that change? I think, I think. She’ll get better. ”
So what does it all mean, a Jan. 9 loss where some weaknesses were exposed? In one sense not much.
“What happened tonight is not indicative of March,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. “I think that there are six teams that can win a national championship and we are one of them. And UConn is one of them.”
Auriemma knows his size isn’t going to change. He talks of that big game youth. But, he saw his team play 30 good minutes. He sees Nelson-Ododa getting better. Right now he sees a lot teams better than UConn. But, this isn't March.
Right now it was a disappointing night in a long season. Nothing more. It’s a long road.