The UConn women’s basketball fan base isn’t really used to sweating through the fourth quarter of a game. On Sunday night, however, they did just that when the second-seeded Huskies defeated 10-seeded Buffalo 84-72 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“That was a lot of work,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said about the game. “That was really hard.”
Despite going up against a difficult opponent, Buffalo head coach Felisha Legette-Jack remained steadfast that her team was going to have fun and not focus on the fact that they were playing the third-ranked Huskies.
“We all know it will be a challenge,” Legette-Jack said before the game. “Every game is a challenge because every team wants to win, nobody wants to lose. Of course it’s UConn but we don’t look at it as anything different from any other game.”
This mindset helped the Bulls, who despite being down by as many as 24 points were able to narrow the lead to nine in the fourth quarter.
As soon as the ball was tipped, both teams came out at a fast-paced and energetic tempo.
Sophomore Megan Walker scored first for the Huskies, jump-starting a 15-0 run that lasted almost five minutes.
Buffalo outworked UConn 16-9 on the glass in the first but were unable to capitalize on their second chance opportunities and carve into the lead.
Freshman Christyn Williams scored big in the the first quarter for the Huskies with 10 points, including two from beyond-the-arc.
The Bulls leading scorer Cierra Dillard was held to just two points in the first after being tightly guarded by junior Crystal Dangerfield. After the game, Auriemma said Dillard is a player reminiscent of ‘old school basketball.’
“She just makes everybody on her team so much better,” Auriemma said of Dillard. “She can score; she can find the right player at the right time. She’s got an old school game to her.”
In the second quarter, the Huskies lead ballooned to 24 and the game seemed like another UConn blowout. Despite this, one thing Legette-Jack never did was give up on her team.
“I don’t ever ever ever think that we can’t win,” Legette-Jack said about whether or not she ever gave up. “And I just give credit to Geno and his team and how special they are, but they earned this win tonight.”
At halftime, seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson were both in double-digits along with Williams.
Despite the vast gap in the score Buffalo came out in the second half just as determined to down the Huskies. Fouls became an issue for both teams as the whistle was blown consistently. Williams ended the quarter with three fouls and junior Dangerfield was forced to sit after picking up her fourth with a little over four minutes remaining in the third.
“You never knew where the next foul was coming from for either team,” Auriemma said of the numerous whistle-blows. “So, it was hard for us to play in that kind of a game because we’re usually a team that doesn’t foul a lot and I think Buffalo was used to playing in that kind of a game.”
By the end of the game 46 fouls had been called between both teams.
In the fourth the game began to get more interesting. With Dangerfield on the bench in foul trouble, Buffalo capitalized, narrowing the score to 15.
With about 8 minutes left, Dillard twisted her ankle stepping on Samuelson’s foot and had to be assisted off the court. Despite losing their best scorer, the Bulls’ responded by narrowing the gap to 10 points.
“When she went down we looked at each other and we said well we gotta play for her,” Bulls’ junior Summer Hemphill said. “And that’s what really got our run kicking and going.”
Dillard did not stay out for very long as she returned to the court about two minutes after being walked off.
“My team’s down, my team needs me [so] I’m coming back out,” Dillard said of her return to the court. “I don’t care if I have to hop on one leg.”
Collier picked up her fourth foul in the fourth along with sophomore Megan Walker. All of the UConn starters ended the night with at least three fouls.
When the final buzzer sounded, Auriemma went up to Legette-Jack to compliment her and her team.
“He just said that your team plays really hard and we’re a really special team,” Legette-Jack said of what Auriemma told her. “That’s a man that doesn’t give up too many complements and I think we’ve earned the respect of Geno Auriemma tonight and I am grateful that our kids left it out there so that the world can see how tough they really are.”
Collier ended the night with her 22nd double-double of the season and Dangerfield added her name to the 1,000-point club during the win.
Moving forward, the Huskies will head to Albany, where they will compete to make it to the Elite Eight on Friday.
And even though the Huskies are moving on Buffalo never made it easy for them.
“They can’t say they walked over us,” Dillard said. “UConn cannot say they walked over Buffalo.”
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.