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Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rookie Hartley Rescues' UConn Win Streak In Baylor Showdown

By Mel Greenberg

HARTFORD, Conn. --
In their ascendancy to becoming one of the dominant powers of women’s collegiate basketball, the University of Connecticut Huskies have had their share of fabled point guards coming up big in key games when the outcome was still in the balance.

Who can forget the famous crossover dribble by Jennifer Rizzotti, now the coach at nearby Hartford, that turned the tide against Tennessee down the stretch to give UConn its first national championship in 1995.

There was the buzzer beater by Sue Bird in 2001 that gave the Huskies the Big East title over Notre Dame in Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. Though the Irish got revenge in the national semifinals several weeks later on the way to their first championship, Bird later signatured one of the four unbeaten runs in 2002.

Near the end of the decade Renee Montgomery authored the first of the two back-to-back unbeaten runs that had the Huskies open the season on Sunday in defense of their most recent national championships.

But these All-Americans had a little time and a lot of hounding from Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma to grow into their leadership roles and provide some rescue work whenever the Huskies needed it performed.

While they were able to be nurtured along the way, freshman Bria Hartley, a 5-7 guard from North Babylon, New York, grabbed hold of the legacy a little quicker Tuesday night in an early season No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with Baylor in a nationally-televised game on ESPN2 in front of a crowd of 12,628 in the XL Center.

Because of the second season-ending injury of Germantown Academy graduate Caroline Doty from Doylestown, Pa., near Philadelphia, Auriemma was forced to immediately toss Hartley into the deep end of the UConn pool of excellence.

So how did she respond?

Well after treading water most of the game, Hartley scored eight points at the finish to spur a rally to a 65-64 victory over the Bears that preserved the Huskies women’s record win streak that now stands at 80.

Hartley’s three-pointer with 3 minutes, 56 seconds left in the game brought the Huskies (2-0) back from an eight-point deficit to the Bears (3-1) that existed several minutes earlier to a 58-58 tie. UConn seemed on the way to another route when the Huskies had taken a 15-point lead earlier in the half,.

Then after sophomore sensation Brittney Griner, a 6-8 center from Houston, scored on the inside, Hartley scored again for another tie after a missed three-pointer from senior Maya Moore,the consensus national player of the year.

Then Hartley nailed a trey with 2:09 left that put UConn ahead to stay, though the game wasn’t ultimately decided until time expired at the same time or an eyelash ahead of Baylor freshman point guard Odyssey Sims desperation three-pointer.

“I don’t know if there’s been a bigger shot made in her life than the three that she made on the wing to tie the game,” Auriemma said. “That had to be the greatest feeling in the world for her.”

Auriemma, however, also noted how Hartley had struggled most of the way before her heroics.

“She was overwhelmed,” Auriemma said. She and (freshman) Stefanie (Dolson) were overwhelmed by the situation, by the competition, by everything.

“Bria reacted exactly liked I thought she would react,” Auriemma said of his thoughts over Hartley’s performance. “It just took a little longer. She’s going to make some plays that are going to win thje game. I just don’t know when.”

Moore praised her new teammate, one of five freshmen on a squad not as deep as the one that signed off last season after rallying to get by Stanford in the NCAA title game.

“I don’t know what was going through her head there -- I don’t think too much,” Moore smiled. I say that because when you need to make shots, you can’t think a whole lot. At times she overplays and gets out of the flow of our offense. When she hits shots like that you know she’s focused and playing to win.”

Hartley admitted to having the jitters going into the last five minutes,

“It was definitely nerve wracking but I knew we’d come through and make big plays,” Hartley said. “If everybody does the little things, we’d get the win. I was just playing.

“I was running through our offense and concentrating on what needed to be done.”

Newcomer Samarie Walker did a fine job shutting down Griner in the first half.

“I’ve never even seen a 6-8 female before,” she said. “Stepping out there next to her I was like, `Oh my goodness.‘ But once we got out there I totally forgot about the height difference and just tried to play her like normal.”

Moore finished with 30 points while Tiffany Hayes scored 16 for UConn.

Griner had 19 points and nine blocked shots but she was 5-for-13 from the line. Sims, who has been quickly thrown into a point guard start herself, finished with 17 points.

Baylor, which lost to Connecticut in San Antonio, Texas, in the national semifinals in Texas, committed 17 turnovers in the first half and was 16-for-28 as a team shooting free throws.

Other than the drama reflected on the scoreboard, this was a matchup that might have had more juice if both teams had their kinks somewhat ironed out and the game played in early January.

But the streak’s existence was newsworthy enough as UConn is now eight away from the UCLA men’s record of 88 under the fabled John Wooden, who died earlier this year.

Baylor was the biggest obstacle in keeping it alive. Georgia Tech might be somewhat of a threat in Atlanta Sunday. But if the Yellow Jackets are turned aside, it will be clear sailing to the Maggie Dixon Classic in Madison Square Garden in New York when Game No. 88 in the streak would be against No. 7 Ohio State and Ariemma’s good friend Jim Foster.

-- Mel

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