Women’s Basketball: Huskies escape physical UCLA


Napheesa Collier had another double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds as the Huskies advance to the Elite Eight. Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

Well, Cori came close, but the Huskies would hold the Bruins off and win 69-61.

When UCLA’s Lindsey Corsaro sunk a 3-pointer to give the UCLA Bruins the 46-41 lead with 2:22 left in the third quarter, hope and the Huskies season seemed to be flashing before their very eyes.

“The look on their face looked like they were in trouble because we couldn’t get anything to drop, we couldn’t get a call,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “(UCLA) started burying 3s. So it was like, well, what are we going to do, we can’t guard them inside if we have to go out. So we’re going to have to give something up. And it looked like we were searching.”

But then, on the Huskies next possession, the momentum started to shift. Senior Katie Lou Samuelson was fouled hard by Lajahna Drummer on a layup attempt, which after a review, was called a flagrant foul. Samuelson made 1-for-2 of her free throw attempts, which was her first point of the night.

“Lou’s mobility is not the same as it was,” Auriemma said. “I’m sure that her back is still an issue. But it was made — it was compounded by how long and how athletic (UCLA) are and how physical the game was. You would never know it, but it was kind of physical. We didn’t necessarily shoot a lot of free throws, but it was physical.”

At the half, UConn was up 31-26, but UCLA was just getting hot before the end of the second quarter, while the Huskies were struggling to find the bottom of the net. The Bruins ended the quarter on 7-0 run, while UConn failed to score a point during the last 5:15.

Christyn Williams got the Huskies on the board early in the third quarter, using her signature quickness to get into the lane and put UConn up 33-26. Then Crystal Dangerfield stole the ball and was fouled on a layup attempt to officially restore the momentum.

But then Corsaro hit a 3 to bring the Bruins within four with 6:27 left to play in the third quarter, and UConn fans got quiet, while Bruins fans perked up. On UCLA’s next possession, Kennedy Burke knocked down a 3-pointer to cap off a 7-0 run.

After Samuelson turned the ball over, Michaela Onyenwere gave the Bruins a 41-39 lead. UConn would tie it up again, but UCLA began to take over. That was when Auriemma called for a 1-3-1 press.

Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

“I think when they made that change in their defense — if someone drives, we weren’t really moving off of the ball,” Burke said. “I think we were standing and watching a lot, and it just made us throw up shots that we didn’t really want. But I think overall we just showed fight.”

When the fourth quarter began, UConn was down 50-49, but they finally had a glimmer of hope again.

The first play of the fourth quarter, Samuelson found senior phenom Napheesa Collier in the post who scored the basket to regain the lead. On UCLA’s next possession, Olivia Nelson-Ododa swatted a shot attempt by Burke and Dangerfield translated it into a bucket.

This was the loudest the Times Union Center got all night.

“I can never use the word ‘Olivia’ and ‘imposing’ in the same sentence, but we look long, and it is kind of disruptive, and she’s able to just by her presence,” Auriemma said. “I think she was a big, big factor in tonight’s game, even without having to score a lot of points or do anything spectacular on the stat sheet.

“Just having her out there I think was — and she looked like she belonged out there. Like her look on the bench was like, ‘Yeah, I got this, Coach.’”

Dangerfield played a vital role in UConn turning the corner. The junior point guard scored 11 of the team’s 20 fourth quarter points.

“It was really taking what the defense was giving us,” Dangerfield said of her clutch fourth quarter. “Coach challenged us at halftime to get into the paint, not really looking for fouls, but just going in there to score, and he wanted to make sure that we had a balance of inside shots and outside shots.”

Collier played her typical unstoppable game, finishing the contest with 25 points and 10 rebounds. This is something she said has come with extremely hard work.

“Obviously I try to work as hard as I can to get position and get in a place where I can be successful with the ball,” Collier said. “But my team does a great job also of getting me the ball, like I said, in the places that I want to be successful. I think just being aggressive from the jump is what I’ve been trying to do a lot, and, like I said, kind of just finding position early and sealing, I guess.”

The Huskies level of trust reached a climax at crunch time in the fourth quarter. Auriemma said it could be because his team was able to wear the Bruins down.

“That might have something to do with the fact that UCLA got tired and they weren’t denying as much, they weren’t as physical, they weren’t as aggressive as they were earlier in the game,” Auriemma said of the team’s uptick in offensive continuity.” We kept our pace for the most part and all we needed was a couple openings and we took advantage of them. That’s it. That’s it.”

Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.logan@uconn.edu.

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