UConn womens basketball's seniors experience first regular season defeat

Published on Friday, 4 January 2019 21:17
Written by Carl Adamec

Journal Inquirer

WACO, Texas - Their other losses in their time with the UConn women’s basketball team ended their last two seasons.

But while seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson have more games to play for the top-ranked Huskies following their 68-57 loss to No. 8 Baylor before a sellout crowd of 10,284 at the Ferrell Center Thursday night, it’s clear there’s plenty of work to do for UConn if it doesn’t want to end a third consecutive year - and its seniors’ careers - with a loss short of its goal of winning a national championship.

“We’re going to learn from this,” Collier said. “We’re going to look at ourselves and see what we need to get better at. We have to take it to heart.”

The Huskies (11-1) are 121-3 since the seniors arrived in Storrs. But the last time UConn had lost a regular season game was on Nov. 17, 2014, when Samuelson - just days after she signed her letter of intent - watched from the Maples Pavilion stands as her older sisters, Bonnie and Karlie, helped Stanford knock off the Huskies.

Not only was UConn’s NCAA record 126-game regular season winning streak snapped Thursday night, so was its NCAA record 55-game winning streak in true road games. A run of 304 consecutive games when it held a second-half lead also was halted. And it was its first regulation time loss since the 2013 Big East Tournament final against Notre Dame.

But at least it wasn’t overtime on a buzzer-beater in the national semifinals and the Huskies still have Sunday and their American Athletic Conference opener at Houston.

“Clearly it’s nowhere near the emotions of the last two years when we lost in the Final Four,” Samuelson said. “It’s more anger this year. You feel like you could have done more. But we have a game on Sunday. It’s a situation this group hasn’t been in before so we’ll learn from it.”

There will be no nightmares of Mississippi State’s Morgan William or Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale after this one, though there will be plenty of tossing and turning about Kalani Brown if the Huskies and Baylor have a rematch in the NCAA Tournament. Brown led the Bears (10-1) with 22 points and 17 rebounds as the 6-foot-7 senior All-American helped Baylor dominate in points in the paint (52-10).

Still, if UConn didn’t struggle so much offensively and shot better than a 2000s low of 29.4 percent, it might have found a way.

“Are you surprised that they would score 52 points in the paint? I would think they would suck if they didn’t score 52 points in the paint,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We knew that would happen. We were OK with that. What we weren’t OK with was how hard it was to get the shots that we wanted. Then we’d get the shots we wanted we didn’t make any of them. We knew we’d be trading threes for twos. That was the plan and it didn’t work.

“I don’t think our transition game was any good. We were too content to just come down and run our offense. And they’re not going to turn it over much. Their offense is pretty basic -- throw it to the big guys. And they’re not going to take a lot of long threes. It’s a slog. It’s not easy playing against them and it never has been.”

UConn had hoped to get some easy baskets with its running game but didn’t have a fast-break point. For the third straight game, it got no points from its bench. With Collier (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Samuelson (12 points, 11 rebounds) recording double-doubles, the Huskies lost the battle of the boards (46-43) and second-chance points (14-12) matchup narrowly.

While UConn held Baylor 18 points under its scoring average, the Bears held the Huskies 28 points under their average.

“If we can’t get to 70 we don’t deserve to win,” Auriemma said.

The Huskies led once - when Crystal Dangerfield scored to make it 2-0 - and the edge lasted 15 seconds. When Baylor needed a play, it made it.

“There’s this impression at UConn that we have this magic dust that our kids are all perfect players and they’re all great students, and every time we shoot it it goes in,” Auriemma said. “It’s taken for granted. Then when you realize how hard it is, you appreciate it more. There are a lot of great programs that have not been to the Final Four in awhile and not won a national championship in a long time. You’re allowed to get beat once in awhile. What fun would it be if you won all the time?”

UConn holds the three longest winning streaks (111, 90, and 70) and the fifth (47) in NCAA history. Checking in at No. 4 is Louisiana Tech with 54. The Huskies topped that for the first time in 2003.

Louisiana Tech was then led by its point guard Kim Mulkey, who is now the Baylor coach. So she knows a bit about broken records.

“For Geno to keep doing that and his program to keep doing that ... Guys, it’s difficult,” Mulkey said. “You have a target on you every time you play. I know what he feels. It’s hard to take everyone’s best shot. It wears on you.”

It’s the Bears’ first win over the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll, and there will likely be a new No. 1 team come Monday.

“We had moments where we played like we should have been playing the whole game,” Samuelson said. “What sucks the most is we knew what we should have done and we felt it on the court and experienced it but it died back down.”

At least their season is still alive.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Friday, 4 January 2019 21:17. Updated: Friday, 4 January 2019 21:20.