By Arnie Leshin
Geno Auriemma rarely slams his hand down on the official’s table. UConn rarely plays in the manner it did Thursday night on its home court in Storrs.
But in this case you have to give credit where credit is due, and it belonged to the visiting defending national champions from Baylor, who not only broke the game wide open in the final quarter, but became the first team to defeat the Huskies at home since St. John’s accomplished it on March 12, 2013 in the Big East Conference final.
The Bears, arriving ranked sixth and unbeaten in a dozen starts, won handily, 74-58, before a loud, but disappointed full house, but it was still a tight tussle until they went from a 55-54 lead to go on a 14-0 run and just shut down UConn. The lead after three quarters was three and then it became a romp after continued missed shots by the top-ranked, previously undefeated Huskies. And when junior Meagan Walker failed to lay in a basket, Auriemma just showed his frustration by slamming the nearby table.
Couldn’t blame him, for while Baylor was making shots from inside and out and putting together a stout defense, his team could shoot only 33 percent from the floor and Walker, junior Christial Williams and senior Chrystal Dangerfield scored 55 of their team’s 58 points. Williams scored 21, Walker 19 and Dangerfield 14, with freshman Anna Makurat adding a first half 3 from the corner.
They even held an edge in rebounds until the Bears took charge and scrubbed the boards, and UConn had a long draught until Dangerfield tossed in a 3 in the final minutes.
By then, it was over, the second time Baylor has beaten a No. 1 team, both time the Huskies, the last time ending UConn’s record of 112 straight victories. The Bears got back 6-4 Lauren Cox off the injury list and she had a big second half with 17 of her 19 points coming in the last two quarters, and she also pulled down 13 rebounds. Teammate Tea Copper had the game-high 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting, and her team shot 45.9 percent from the floor and took down 35 offensive boards.
They added to their lead by making trips to the foul line as the clock ticked down and Auriemma calling time out in frustration. In that stretch, Baylor converted 13-of-16 charity shots, and handed out 18 assists in all. It led 35-34 at halftime and the home team had its last lead late in the first half, as well as forcing seven ties. But the Huskies could never take over, falling short on a number of layups.
Plus, Baylor controlled the inside as UConn’s 6-5 sopohomore Olivia Nelson-Ododa went 0-for-8 from underneath, did not take down her usual rebounds or provide her usual shot blocking. If not for Williams, Walker and Dangerfield, it would have been even worse, for it was them versus a strong Bears’ performance. Their Nalyssa Smith also had a big night with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Both teams had 12 turnovers each, but most of the time the Huskies couldn’t take advantage of them, coming down court and either missing open shots or creating their own turnovers. They made 8-of-26 3s and Baylor tossed in 11 of 24 and was 27-for-60 from the floor while UConn was good on only 19-of-69 attempts. It was all even in foul shooting until the Bears kept parading to the line as the arena began to empty earlier than usual.
It was into the cold night they went as their Huskies’ long win streak at home became history after a cold night on the court. While Baylor will move up in the rankings, UConn will remain in the rankings for the 500th straight week, and hopefully it will bounce back as it still as Oregon and Tennessee at home, and South Carolina on the road. Meanwhile, Baylor looked just fine as it sought its second-straight NCAA championship.