The UConn women’s basketball season came to an abrupt end last night after the Huskies were upset by Aari McDonald and three-seed Arizona, losing 69-59 and once again falling short of a trip to the National Championship.
Despite game planning more thoroughly for this matchup than their game against Baylor, UConn came out flat, never once holding a lead en route to their fourth straight loss in the National Semifinal.
“I think we came out with the wrong mentality,” Christyn Williams said. “We thought it was gonna be easy I guess, and we got flustered. They had great ball pressure and it wasn’t like anything we’ve seen before this season. We just couldn’t get in a flow offensively.”
Defense was the name of the game early, with both teams struggling a bit to get things going. The Huskies started the quarter 1-7 compared to Arizona’s 3-9, but the main difference was the Wildcat’s going a perfect 3-3 from deep in that span to put them up 9-3. UConn would end the first down 16-10 with more turnovers (4) than made shots (3), shooting just 21% in the period.
Christyn Williams did her best to keep the Huskies in the game in the second, scoring 10 of the team’s 12 points in the quarter, but McDonald and Arizona kept their offense rolling, hitting three more 3-pointers and extending their lead to 10 at halftime. The pressure the Wildcats put on early proved too much for UConn to bounce back from, as their 22 points were the lowest they scored in a half all season.
“It was incredibly difficult for us to get anything done,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I thought the intensity level that they played with and the aggressiveness on the defensive end, we just didn’t respond as I had hoped we would.”
As they’ve been known to do this tournament, the Huskies brought a little more fight in the third quarter, using a quick 5-0 run to cut the Arizona lead back to five, but an immediate 7-0 run in response by the Wildcats told the story of how the game went for UConn.
Another 9-4 run in the final quarter brought the Huskies back within five, but Auriemma said the missed free throws and layups — they went just 7-22 inside in the game — were too difficult to overcome.
“We got it back and then we just missed shots that you’ve gotta make at this point in time,” Auriemma said. “You’ve gotta make those shots, those free throws, those layups [and] those open 3s that you get because they’re not easy to come by. You’ve gotta be able to play a bunch of high-level games in a row in order to win the whole thing.”
The Wildcats made 13 free throws in the final quarter, going 22-31 on the night to clinch their first trip to the National Championship in program history, sending UConn fans and players home shocked and disappointed at a season with so much potential cut short.
Williams was one of the Huskies’ lone bright spots in the game, finishing with a team-high 20 points on 7-17 shooting and was the main catalyst in UConn’s comeback attempts in the second half. The junior unfortunately fell victim to a tightly called game by the officials, fouling out on a phantom call with 3:51 remaining in the game.
Paige Bueckers and Evina Westbrook added 18 and 10 points respectively in the loss, but every other player struggled for the Huskies. Aaliyah Edwards was held to just eight points, Olivia Nelson-Ododa had her first game of the year without a made field goal and first without an assist since Feb. 17 and as a team the Huskies scored their fewest points (59) on their worst shooting percentage (36%) of the year.
However, as is always the case after a loss, the Huskies have plenty to learn from this season, and with everyone set to return for another year with the addition of No. 1 recruit Azzi Fudd, Auriemma is confident his team will be back and better prepared come next year.
“I believe that what we learned this year through all the ups and downs is gonna really benefit us for the next couple years,” Auriemma said. “I remember saying that in 2008, we lost to Stanford in the semi-final, it was Maya Moore’s freshman year and I said, ‘we’ll be back,’ and we went back and we were undefeated the next two seasons. I don’t think that’s gonna happen, but we’ll be back here sooner rather than later.”