The UConn women’s basketball team walked into the Frank Erwin Center Monday night and were met with an arena filled with 11,877 fans – the Texas Longhorns’ 12th largest crowd ever.
The No. 1-ranked Huskies were undefeated heading into the matchup, and walked away still undefeated, but only barely, defeating the No. 9-ranked Longhorns 75-71 in what was UConn’s toughest test this season.
UConn (16-0, 5-0 the American) struck first on a jumper from point guard Crystal Dangerfield, but got off to an atypical rough start, falling behind early after an 8-0 run by Texas (14-3, 5-1 Big 12), fueled by threes from senior guards Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty. The Huskies trailed 8-2 just 1:40 into the game, and a second pair of threes from Atkins and McCarty gave the Longhorns another 8-0 run. This gave Texas a 20-10 lead with three minutes remaining in the first period, a rare double-digit deficit for UConn.
Atkins and McCarty each finished with 14 points, but failed to make another three the rest of the game as the Huskies’ defense dialed in on them. UConn then struggled with keeping Longhorns’ center Jatarie White from making easy buckets in the paint. White ultimately finished 8-12 from the field, good for 18 points in 28 minutes on the court.
UConn would bounce back with an 11-4 run over the remainder of the first, but still trailed Texas 24-21 at the end of the quarter. It was the first time the Huskies have been outscored in a single quarter since Dec. 8, when DePaul outscored them 22-21 in fourth quarter, effectively garbage time with all the starters sitting out.
UConn got it together in the second quarter and reclaimed the lead with 4:18 left in the half after a pair of free throws from Kia Nurse made it 29-28 in favor of the Huskies. Their lead was short lived as the Longhorns went on a 9-0 run, energizing the crowd and showing everybody that they would not bow down once the Huskies made their run.
A pair of threes from Dangerfield and Katie Lou Samuelson cut the Texas lead to just two points with 1:24 left in the half, before a crucial offensive rebound by Gabby Williams with seconds remaining led to a Napheesa Collier layup to give UConn a 39-38 lead heading into the locker room.
Samuelson finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-12 shooting, including 3-6 from the 3-point line, and tallied three rebounds and two assists. Her ability to knockdown shots was a key for the Huskies with Collier in foul trouble for much of the game – she fouled out with 2:42 remaining in the game – and Dangerfield struggling to make shots. Dangerfield finished 4-11 from the field with 11 points.
The Huskies extended their lead to as many as six points in the third quarter, suggesting they might finally pull away. However, the Longhorns stuck with them and even re-took the lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the game after a 7-0 run made it 62-61 Texas.
Williams made sure that lead wouldn’t last long. UConn’s senior forward nailed a deep two – a rare jumper for the versatile Williams – to immediately reclaim the lead and the Huskies never looked back. Texas kept it close the rest of the way and put UConn on the free throw to stay alive. Samuelson missed a pair of free throws with the Huskies up three points with 15 seconds left on the clock, but Texas couldn’t close the deficit and complete the upset.
The Huskies will come back home to Gampel Pavilion and take on the Tulsa Golden Hurricane Thursday night at 7 p.m. in hopes of extending their undefeated season and undefeated record in American Athletic Conference play.
Christopher Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball and football. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @realchrishanna.