On the night they unveiled the 2016 National Championship banner, the 2016-17 No. 3 ranked Huskies defeated No. 2 Baylor 72-61, putting the four-peat in the rearview mirror. With the victory, UConn moves to 2-0 on the season and extends their win streak to 77 in a row.
The Huskies were the more consistent team throughout as fouls took the Lady Bear frontcourt out of the game for long stretches at a time, hindering their game plan. Although Baylor was able to outrebound the Huskies 39-29 including 17 offensive rebounds, junior Gabby Williams, sophomore Napheesa Collier and senior Natalie Butler proved worthy adversaries despite being severely outmatched in size.
From the beginning of the game, whoever controlled the offensive boards was poised to take control of the game, as Williams was able to box out 6-foot-7-inch Kalani Brown and 6-foot-4 Beatrice Mompremier, forcing them to commit multiple fouls. Sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson and freshman Crystal Dangerfield led the UConn attack early as they both added multiple buckets to give the Huskies a 19-14 lead at the end of the quarter.
Baylor came out much harder in the second quarter than at the onset of the game as they were able to pound the ball inside while point guard Alexis Jones was able to hit from the three point line. The two teams proceeded to exchange baskets in the second as the half ended with UConn clinging on to a 32-29 lead. In the first half, due to foul trouble to Samuelson, Collier and junior Kia Nurse, Dangerfield stepped up and led the way with 10 points.
For the start of the second half, Baylor opened up with two quick buckets in the paint as they were also able to force UConn to miss four consecutive baskets. The slow start from the field for the Huskies led to a four point deficit and a timeout, as this was a turning point in the game.
“The first 20 minutes of the game felt like Florida State all over again because we struggled so much but after the first timeout in the second half, they kind of reset their clock a little bit and everything was pretty good after that,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said.
Following the time out, Mompremier picked up a quick third foul, as this allowed UConn to be able to drive to the lane more often and finish with a higher percentage. From this point forward the teams exchange leads on what seemed like every percentage, as things finally slowed down when UConn switched to the 3-2 zone with a little over four minutes to go in the quarter.
“They [UConn] played tough. When they went to the 3-2 we did not handle that very well,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “They were a little tougher and got some hustle plays.”
The Huskies, after switching to the zone were able to open up a 50-41 point lead, but after Collier picked up her fourth foul with 1:51 in the third quarter, the Lady Bears strung together a 7-0 run to cut into the lead. Baylor was able to close the gap but could not tie the game as UConn finished the third up 54-49.
Mirroring the third quarter, Baylor started off hot as they scored the first five points, tying up the game. UConn switched back to the 3-2 zone and went on a quick 6-0 run and then following a Kalani Brown layup, went on a 10-0 run, putting the game seemingly out of reach. The two daggers of the fourth quarter were Gabby Williams stripping the ball away from Brown down in the post leading to a fast break and when Alexis Prince committed a technical foul leading to two Samuelson made free throws.
The Huskies ended the game on an extended 18-7 run as they held the Lady Bears to 12 points in the quarter. Baylor shot only 33.3 percent in the third and 25 percent from behind the arc as the UConn defense was able to seal the victory.
Even though UConn led at the end of every quarter, the players and coaches both saw it as a tale of two halves, as the Huskies were not able to find their groove until the second half. “The first half some of us were in foul trouble and we needed to calm down a little bit but that second half we all just came out knowing we had to put up a fight and we were going to play as hard as we could. It was a lot of fun,” Samuelson said.
With two wins over ranked teams to start the season, the Huskies are right back where they usually are: undefeated. After a closer than they wanted win Monday night at Florida State, Geno was pleased with tonight’s performance
“We were good tonight,” Auriemma said. “We were good when we had to be.”
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.