At risk of being too simple, here goes nothing. To stop the UConn women’s basketball machine, you just have to stop them from scoring.
The No. 6 Baylor Bears, who head coach Kim Mulkey described as “old school,” did just that, but especially in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know if fatigue set in for them, or if our defense was that good in the fourth quarter,” Milkey said.
After scoring the first basket of the final period, the Huskies didn’t make another field goal until there were just 44 seconds remaining in the game. The No. 1 team in the country went on to lose to the defending national champions, 74-56.
“In the fourth quarter we got four stops in a row and it was a one point game. We came out empty handed all four of those possessions,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Those shots that we got, some of them looked like a shooting drill, they were wide open. We shot air balls when we were wide open. What do you do about that?”
UConn wasn’t shooting particularly well in the first three quarters, as they finished with a field goal percentage of 29 percent. They were in the game, trailing by just one going into the fourth, but all they could muster were six points in the entire period. They made just two shots in the final 10 minutes.
When was the last time the almighty UConn women shot under 30 percent from the field? Believe it or not, it was actually just last January. And I don’t think this is a coincidence… but it was in a loss to Baylor.
In that game (and stop me if this sounds familiar) the Huskies went into the fourth down just four points, but scored only 10 the entire period.
This begs the question: Does Baylor put the clamps on the Huskies in the game’s waning minutes, or does UConn just miss those shots when they need them most?
While Christyn Williams played a good, complete game, nobody else seemed to. Aside from a 13-point third quarter, Crystal Dangerfield had just three in the entire first half and three in the fourth quarter. Megan Walker scored 18, but shot 25 percent. Kyla Irwin and Aubrey Griffin combined for 40 minutes, but zero points.
To put it in other words, UConn got just three points from anybody not named Williams, Dangerfield or Walker. They were from Anna Makurat… not Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
“This game right here, that’s where Liv [Nelson-Ododa] is right now. Will that change? I think it’ll change,” Aureimma said.
Nelson-Ododa, who Auriemma previously described as the team’s most important player this season, shot 0-for-8 from the field and found herself on the bench the entire fourth quarter.
Auriemma followed up by saying, “She’ll get better. The next time we play this kind of game, she’ll play a lot better.”
Nelson-Ododa was guarded by Lauren Cox, a big and strong yet skilled center, for much of the game. Auriemma stressed improvements by Nelson-Ododa, but also the 3-point shooters, are necessary to beat a team like Baylor.
“For every one of those threes that were wide open, we only shot 8-for-26. We need to go 12 or 13-for-26,” Auriemma said.
On the other hand, Baylor, who are once again “old school,” shot the heck out of the 3-ball.
“That first half, they made a bunch of threes. That’s not normally what they do. If they’re going to do that and play the way they play inside, it’ll be hard to beat them,” Auriemma said.
In conclusion, UConn missed shots, many of them open, while Baylor simply did everything right. It’s going to be hard to win when that happens.
“We went on a little run and they missed some shots,” Milkey said. “Honestly, we didn’t do anything different in the fourth quarter than we did in the first three quarters.”
Maybe there isn’t a blueprint after all.
“I’d love to tell you that I made some genius decision in the fourth quarter,” Milkey said. “You just have to guard your man, and there’s no secret about that.”
If just guarding your man is the secret, then I’d recommend that more teams try it.