When one thinks of Princeton, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the ivy halls and exemplary academics, not basketball. But on Thursday night, they proved they belong on the same hardwood as No. 6 UConn, as the Huskies bested them by just five points, 69-64.
27 was the key number in the game, representing the number of turnovers Connecticut had on the night. 14 came in the fourth quarter, many at untimely moments, allowing the Huskies to blow a 15-point advantage. The biggest giveaway of the game was with 4.4 seconds left, though, as the Tigers threw the ball away with a chance to tie the game.
“Sometimes the only way you can prepare for a situation is to be in it,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “I don’t know if we handled it great. I don’t think we’ll be proud. At the end, we needed to make a couple plays and we did what we needed to get done to get the victory.”
“It was great being back,” noted Princeton coach Carla Berube. “It’s a lot like I left it. It was fun, it was a great atmosphere. We didn’t let it slip away when we were down 15. I have tough players who have a will to win. They made it a fun game for the crowd and the fans.”
Aubrey Griffin, a senior out of Ossining, NY, played the best game of her career, notching 29 points and 10 boards on a perfect 11-11 from the field. She was the one that hit big shots for the Huskies, perpetually going on spurts that prevented the Tigers from taking the lead.
“Having Aubrey play the way she played makes up for all the things we didn’t do,” Auriemma noted. “We challenged her hard in the huddle and she responded with the most important game she’s played since she’s been at Connecticut.”
“We had a lot of trouble containing [Griffin],” Berube said. “She’s fast, quick, and has a good first step. She also hit a couple threes, which she’s capable of. We scouted them and picked our poison, but she stepped up and hit big shots for them.”
Lou Lopez-Senechal was another strong contributor to the win, scoring 18 points, while adding six points and three steals. She went out of the game in the fourth quarter limping, another blow to an already depleted Husky team. The first hit came to point guard Nika Muhl, whose head struck Aaliyah Edwards’ knee in the third. Based on initial reports, though, they seem to be generally okay.
“Lou has been struggling a bit,” Auriemma noted. “She strained her foot two weeks ago and she tweaked it today. She says she’s fine… Nika is in the locker room and says she feels fine, but we’ll know more tomorrow.”
Lopez-Senechal got things started with a layup, but the teams went back and forth during the opening minutes. Benchwarmer Amari DeBerry tied the game at six with unusual early playing time for the shorthanded Huskies, but Grace Stone took the lead back with a triple. A deep shot from Lopez-Senechal brought the Huskies up four. Muhl brought the advantage to six with a converted and-one and the Tigers were having trouble getting much going, down by seven after a quarter.
Ellie Mitchell got a layup to go, but a great pass from Caroline Ducharme allowed for Lopez-Senechal to get wide open for a three. Aubrey Griffin got the Huskies’ second and-one of the night as a part of her own 7-0 run, and all of a sudden they had a 15-point lead. The fake shot clock from the students perpetually threw Princeton off, making things harder than they needed to be. This was one of the many factors contributing to their nearly eight-minute drought in the second quarter, which was finally ended by Kaitlyn Chen and Stone’s consecutive buckets. The Tigers managed just six points in the period, but were down just 32-20 at the half thanks to their defense.
Stone cut the lead to single digits with a three to start the half, but Griffin went on a 4-0 run. Muhl ended up in the middle of a scrum and took a shot to the head, requiring medical attention and took a few minutes to get to her feet. Chen led Princeton to a 6-2 run, but Lopez-Senechal silenced it with a layup. The Huskies had some massive defensive stops to keep the Tigers at arm’s length, rarely letting them get within 10 points.
Ducharme finally woke up with her first bucket at the end of the third quarter and Griffin and Lopez-Senechal each hit much needed threes to improve the lead to 15. Portuguese freshman Ines Bettencourt checked in for her first taste of competitive action in Muhl’s absence, a point guard not expected to play this year. Aaliyah Edwards hit a jumper to close out the quarter, getting the Huskies up 14 at the end of the third.
Julia Cunningham hit a tough layup to start the final frame but another pair of massive Lopez-Senechal and Griffin long balls prevented any sort of run. A pair of fast break layups for the Tigers decreased the Connecticut lead to 10, forcing an Auriemma timeout. Five unanswered from Cunningham cut it to five and UConn was looking incredibly sloppy. Thankfully for the Huskies, though, Griffin’s calm senior leadership came through as she scored six points to get the lead back into double digits. Lopez-Senechal was seen limping off after the play, leaving Connecticut with just six scholarship players.
Cunningham’s torrid night continued with a three; Chen got a midrange jumper and all of a sudden it was down to a four-point game. Poor ball control led to a turnover and Chen hit a pair from the stripe to cut it to two. Three points the old-fashioned way from Griffin proved to be massive, but Madison St. Rose matched her with a corner three.
Bettencourt hit one of two from the line, giving the Tigers the ball down three with 21 seconds left. Chen hoisted up a three off balance, but the air-ball was thrown off a Husky and out of bounds, allowing Princeton one last chance with 4.4 seconds on the clock. An untimely turnover gave the ball back to Connecticut and Bettencourt iced the game with a pair of free throws, giving the Huskies a 69-64 win.
The Huskies will get a chance at their first true road win of the year Sunday when they travel to College Park to play Maryland.