COLUMBIA, S.C. - The UConn womenâs basketball team held the nationâs No. 5 scoring offense to 11 first-quarter points Monday night.
And the Huskies entered the second quarter trailing by nine.
Itâs been the trend for UConn when facing the top teams in the country the past five weeks. The Huskies held Baylor, the No. 3 scoring offense, 10 points under its average in a Jan. 9 loss at the XL Center. They held Oregon, the nationâs top-scoring team, 12 points under its average in a Feb. 3 loss at Gampel Pavilion. South Carolina finished 14 points under its scoring average Monday night but still had few problems in beating the Huskies 70-52 at Colonial Life Arena.
UConn (20-3) is averaging 55.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting from the floor (31.9 percent from 3-point land) in its losses to the top three teams in the Associated Press poll. But can the Huskies get to a point where they can score enough points to make a run at the best teams if they run into them again in late March?
âWeâre not. Simple answer, weâre not,â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. âWeâre going to get the shots that we get and if they go in weâll get 70. If they donât, we get 52. Itâs not that complicated.â
The Huskies scored two points - a Megan Walker layup with 3:54 gone - in the first quarter against the Gamecocks, and finished the period 1-for-16 from the floor with five turnovers.
On Jan. 30, South Carolina (23-1) held Ole Miss scoreless for the first 19 minutes and to a NCAA record-tying two points in the first half. But the Rebels donât have the talent the Huskies have, though it might have been tough to tell for 10 minutes.
âThe first quarter just got a little too fast for us, it got sped up,â Auriemma said. âSome shots were maybe a little bit rushed, some things were forced, some were easy that didnât go in. Defensively I thought they were really, really good and they put a lot of pressure on our perimeter game. They were not that concerned about how much we would get inside. They were adamant about not giving us the threes we normally get. When we didnât make any in the first quarter it put us in a hole that we couldnât get out of.â
Maybe the tone was set when South Carolina freshman center Aliyah Boston attempted her first 3-pointer of the season and her college career in the first quarter and found nothing but net.
UConn trailed by double figures for the final 24:31, though it did have a couple of opportunities to put some pressure on the Gamecocks. The Huskies did shoot 46.7 percent - right near their season average - over the final three quarters. But when they needed a score to apply heat they didnât get it and then there were just not enough stops at the defensive end.
âAfter the first quarter, yeah, we got a lot of good shots,â Auriemma said. âAnd there were a bunch we didnât take. It drives me crazy why young players after they miss a bunch of shots refuse to shoot the ball. How are you going to win the game without putting the ball in the basket? Itâs better to miss than not take the shot at all, but young players donât understand that. It doesnât bother Crystal (Dangerfield). She just keeps shooting whether they go in or not. Sheâs a senior. What is she going to do, save them for next year? These other guys miss a couple of shots and they donât want to shoot anymore.â
Dangerfield finished with a career high of 28 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Her teammates went 12-for-42 for 24 points including Christyn Williamsâ 1-for-11 and Anna Makuratâs 0-for-5.
UConn could have used some Williams magic like she had in South Bend 14 months ago. Itâs been that kind of year for the sophomore, though.
âWeâre not able to win these kind of games with one player playing great,â Auriemma said. âCrystal did her part, more than her part. We didnât get enough from the rest of our team. Iâm not surprised that Crystal played pretty well down here. Sheâs a senior and been through a lot of these games, played 40 minutes in these games. She almost won the UCLA game single-handedly last year in the NCAA Tournament. She has a history of, âI can do this.â Nobody on this team has a history of doing it in a big road game or a game that means everything. So if things donât go right early on, it is hard to right that ship. As they get older and they get more experience, that will change. Right now we are where we are.â
UConn did out-rebound South Carolina 40-38 as Olivia Nelson-Ododa had 10 points and nine rebounds. The sophomore did foul out with 1:15 to go but the outcome was decided by then.
âYou saw her last week and you saw her today. Sheâs a lot better player than she was last Monday,â Auriemma said. âThatâs the point of all this. I would have been disappointed if Liv had played as bad or worse than she did last Monday. I thought she was great for long, long stretches and she didnât get a lot of help underneath.â
But there was no questioning the Huskiesâ toughness and no one said that they were embarrassed, though no one will want to look at a first-quarter replay anytime soon.
So there was some improvement from the loss to Oregon a week earlier.
âIt could have been easy to lay down after the first quarter,â Dangerfield said. âMost kids around the country they put up two points in the first quarter theyâd get demoralized. We didnât do that. We fought back.â
But after outscoring Baylor in the first quarter of their game in Hartford, the Huskies were outscored by the combination of the Bears, Ducks, and Gamecocks the next 11 quarters.
Monday nightâs loss marked the first time in 20 years UConn lost two out of three games during a season. The Huskies will try to keep their 27-year-old streak of not losing back-to-back games alive on Sunday when they visit South Florida in Tampa.
UConn fell to 7-7 when facing the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll.
âWe played the No. 1 team and we battled them,â Auriemma said. âWe didnât make the plays we needed to make. Maybe weâre just not good enough to make those plays.
âThe object is to get through the season and get to the NCAA Tournament, this year. Some years weâre going to be the No. 1 seed and win the whole thing. This year, itâs get through the season, get to the NCAA Tournament, and see what happens. This year weâre like every other team in the country, God forbid.â