Mambacita is forever a Husky 💙 pic.twitter.com/3wdAbdK0Ye
— UConn Women's Hoops (@UConnWBB) January 27, 2020
It was close for the majority of the game, but in the end, Team USA pulled away with it, defeating the Huskies 79-64 on the backs of a fourth-quarter where the pros outscored UConn 27-13.
Before tipoff, the arena held a 24-second moment of silence in memory of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who died in a helicopter crash on January 26. Team USA followed by taking an eight-second violation to begin the game, and UConn subsequently took a 24-second shot clock violation.
“He had a big impact on the world of sports,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Introducing the NBA to a whole part of the world that didn’t know about it. And his businesses, all the stuff that he’s done. Those are things that last forever.”
The Huskies also kept a seat open on the bench, with a No. 2 jersey draped over it and flowers placed on it in honor of Gianna. The UConn women’s basketball Twitter account tweeted out a photo of it, saying “Mambacita is forever a Husky.”
“She was like a little kid looking up at our players,” Auriemma said. “You could see the look in her eyes, that she was so excited, and imagine the absurdity of that. Your father’s Kobe Bryant, and the most excited you’ve been in a long time is being around college women’s basketball players. But that’s what it meant to her, that was what she aspired to be.”
It was a homecoming for five former UConn basketball players: Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Breanna Stewart, Katie Lou Samuelson and Dianna Taurasi, the last of whom didn’t dress. Bird, Charles and Stewart started the game along with Sylvia Fowles and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
It was Fowles who led Team USA in scoring, finishing with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 5-for-5 from the line. Bird had nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, with all of the makes coming from beyond the arc. Charles had six on 3-of-11 shooting and a team-high nine rebounds and Samuelson had two going 1-for-3 from the floor.
But it was UConn’s Megan Walker who led the game in the scoring column, scoring 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the floor including 3-of-7 from deep.
“It felt good to be out there and to be scoring for my team,” Walker said. “They expect that from me, so for me to come through for them, it meant a lot to me.”
She also led UConn in rebounds with seven and in turnovers with six, playing a team-high 38 minutes.
“To me, it’s a great sign when you can get things done in a game like this, because that should give you a ton of confidence no matter who you play against,” Auriemma said. ‘Because scoring, getting buckets against these guys is not easy. So for you to be able to score, be able to get to the rim, be able to make some big 3s, Meg’s been getting better every week, and today was just another step in that process. I was really proud of her today. She battled pretty hard.”
The two teams were tied at the half 31-31, with UConn battling back after being down by as much as 14 at one point early in the second quarter.
“For 20 minutes, we battled these guys, and hopefully the next 20 minutes we can battle them just as hard and get a couple more things done on offense than we did in the first half,” Auriemma said. “And for the most part, for 35 minutes, whatever it was, however long we held in there, we hung in there. And then you know, we just wore out. They’re just too big, too talented, too smart.”
UConn even held a lead early in the fourth quarter, but a 3 from Kelsey Plum just under the nine-minute mark gave Team USA a lead that they would never relinquish.
As for UConn, we saw what they can be. We saw the fight, we saw the drive and we saw the ability to control a game against easily the best team they will play all season.
“They’re a typical UConn team,” Bird said. “I think they play hard, they cut tremendously hard, there’s no wasted possessions. I think you saw glimpses of what they can be, that’s kinda how I see it. … We can all be honest, they’re not as deep as typical UConn teams, maybe they’re not as talented as typical UConn teams, but you saw glimpses, and if they can find a way to make those glimpses even longer throughout a game … then you got a team you don’t want to see in the NCAA tournament. And they should continue to do that, they should continue to work each day, each practice, towards peaking at the right time which is March.”
Yes, they didn’t win, but they were playing against a team that included some future Hall of Famers, and they battled.
“They have some players that we’re going to see at the next level,” Team USA coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Obviously Crystal coming out in this class, Megan Walker’s gonna be a great pro, Nelson-Ododa I thought had some really good moments. We got some pretty darn good post players that she’s competing with. I think that overall, you know it doesn’t feel good to lose but I think it was a successful day for them.”
The Huskies will be back in action on Thursday when they host Cincinnati at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, followed by hosting Oregon on Monday, also at Gampel.