UConn, Just Barely
It’s not going to come easy for the Huskies this year.
by Clay Kallam
Even though UConn hung on to win Tuesday, 65-64, it’s pretty clear that the Huskies aren’t what they were.
And remember, even with all the talk about how young Geno Auriemma’s group is, Baylor played a freshman point guard for 34 minutes, and all its other key contributors (aside from senior Melissa Jones, who went 2-10) were sophomores. So come April, when these two teams will likely meet again, will it necessarily be UConn that will have improved more?
Of course, Connecticut will still have the marvelous Maya Moore, who had 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 steals in yet another amazing performance – did you see the running left-handed tip-in from eight feet? And the steals don’t tell the whole story about her defense. She’s simply spectacular in all aspects of the game.
If not for freshman Bria Hartley, though, the Huskies would not be in possession of their 80th-straight win. She hit two threes and followed in a miss in a 1:44 span down the stretch to take Connecticut from three down to three up, and Baylor could not recover.
And speaking of not recovering, how could any team recover from 17 first-half turnovers? Or from a 15-point deficit to the two-time defending national champion, in their house, with 15:07 left? Baylor, as a matter of fact, which built a 56-48 lead with 6:42 to go before Moore nailed a natural three-point play to start the Huskies on the road back.
But such sloppiness, and such runs, are to be expected in November basketball. A lot of inexperienced players got their first real taste of big-time pressure in the nationally televised game. Maybe they were role players in the past, but this time they had to be playmakers, and some found it hard to shift from one gear to the other.
In the end, though, UConn found a way to win. The Huskies hit 14-15 free-throws and managed to get 14 offensive rebounds to just five for Baylor. They held Brittney Griner to just 12 shots, and gratefully watched her miss eight of 13 free throws (the Bears were just 16-28 overall). Of course, Griner did block 9 shots, alter several others, and finish with 19 points and 7 rebounds, so it’s not like she was a disappointment.
Jones, the lone Baylor senior, did get 14 rebounds, but was 2-10, and someone, anyone, has to be an outside threat if Griner isn’t going to be double-teamed to death. Tuesday, that threat was freshman Odyssey Sims, who hit all three of her three-pointers, and was 7-9 overall, but, freshman-like, she had 5 turnovers and missed both her free-throws.
Put all that together – giving up offensive rebounds, turning the ball over 24 times, missing 12 free-throws – and it’s hard to see how Baylor could even stay in the game in front of the sold-out house, but it’s a measure of Connecticut’s vulnerability that the Bears did just that.
Tiffany Hayes, expected to step into the role of supporting star, not supporting cast, was 5-20 and missed all seven of her three-pointers. Kelly Faris played 34 minutes, and took just one shot – which she missed. Freshman post Stefanie Dolson fouled out in 13 minutes after going one for six from the field.
Still, Tuesday at least, the magic lingered on. Hartley hit those shots, Moore was magnificent, and Baylor made way too many mistakes. UConn got number 80, but getting to the UCLA mark of 88 is no gimme – and winning that third-straight NCAA title looks a lot more like a tossup than a sure thing.
For more of Clay Kallam, and more on women’s basketball, go to fullcourt.com Full Court Press.