Guru Report: UConn Surge Rallies Huskies Over Georgetown
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA – Sylvester Stallone wasn’t anywhere near Temple University’s Liacouras Center Sunday afternoon but the spirit of his underdog boxing character Rocky Balboa was alive and well inside fifth-seeded Georgetown, which took on two-time defending heavyweight women’s basketball champion Connecticut in a Philadelphia Regional semifinal game in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike the movie character, this was not a first-time one-shot opportunity for the Hoyas (24-11), who meet the Huskies (35-1) regularly in the Big East and had fallen twice to them already this season in a home game at McDonough Arena in Washington and then in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament earlier this month in Hartford, Conn.
Fresh off a second-round upset of host No. 4 Maryland, which was also a second takedown of the Terrapins this season, Georgetown came out swinging on the basketball canvas Sunday by dropping seven haymakers from three-point range by halftime and holding a 53-46 lead with 9 minutes, 36 seconds left in the game.
The implications off the moment were many if the lead would hold.
For one, a loss by the Huskies at this stage of the NCAAs, would be their first exit at Sweet 16 level since 2005 when the Women’s Final Four was also held in Indianapolis.
That marked the end of UConn’s three-season domination and produced a myriad of storylines the rest of the way with Baylor the ultimate beneficiary capturing the Bears’ first NCAA crown.
Baylor would have stood to gain again this time around while ironically here on Tuesday night Joanne P. McCallie would be in better position to guide second-seeded Duke to her first Final Four since finishing second in 2005 when she was still coaching Michigan State.
For two, a loss would have also brought the first premature ending to a reigning senior collegiate superstar’s career in the women’s game since March 22nd, 1999 in Greensboro, N.C.
That was the night in the East Regional when a Duke contingent on the rise short-circuited Tennessee 69-63 ruining a potential national four-peat and closing the women’s collegiate history book on Chamique Holdsclaw.
Nancy Gay, reporting at the time for the San Francisco Chronicle described the ignominious ending of the as follows:
Her auto-pilot offense failed her, her magic never materialized, and the best player in women's college basketball could do nothing last night but bury her head into the comforting arms of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, sobbing uncontrollably as the final seconds of her brilliant career quickly ticked off the clock.
In one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, third-seeded Duke refused to bow to top- seeded Tennessee's pressure defense and glittering roster of All- America stars, limiting Holdsclaw to 11 points and holding on for a 69-63 victory in the East Regional semifinal at Greensboro Coliseum.
Flash back to the present on Sunday afternoon where Georgetown needed just one or more two whacks to fell the great wall of UConn, sending Maya Moore to a similar unanticipated finish.
Around the nation, crowds began to gather to watch the ESPN2 telecast in public areas as they speculated a champion(s) end was on the brink.
However, though Moore had performed closer to human level Sunday afternoon than in the galaxy in which she has thrived, the Georgian was in no mood for history to repeat.
Two minutes earlier, Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma and his staff already greased the wheels to kill the Rocky storyline by dropping down from heavyweight to bantamweight fighting mode.
Off the recommendations of an assistant, laboring 6-5 freshman center Stefani Dolson was substituted from a lineup that just had experienced a previous move with senior 5-4 guard Lorin Dixon inserted.
“We just changed our defense a little bit and the way Lorin came in and played changed the tone of the game – everything changed,” Auriemma said.
Dixon had been lackluster most of her career until a month ago. She and freshman guard Bria Hartley began to make things happen and Moore took care of the rest.
“Insert Lorin, never thought I’d say that,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza tweeted humorously watching the game. Until joining the Owls three seasons ago she had been an Auriemma assistant 14 years, including when Dixon was a freshman.
In fact, as UConn tiptoed into the season off losing Germantown Academy's Caroline Doty in the summer to a third season-ending knee injury, Auriemma had privately told someone -- not the Guru -- how Dixon was playing havoc with a thin rotation, though he had total praise for her Sunday.
“Hartley’s trey cut the UConn disadvantage to four points, then Dixon had two steals. She scored off her first theft and fed Hartley off the second to tie the game 53-53 with 7:11 left in regulation.
Dixon hit a jumper that got the lead back in the UConn column for good at 55-53 with 6:19 left.
“He had to take Dolson out,” Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, a former Penn State star, tried to put it diplomatically in observing the UConn roster switch. “Tia Magee was absolutely killing her. Tia was taking it to the basket and shooting the three.
“He decided to go smaller by putting Dixon in the game. And Dixon hasn’t been a big time player for him. She was their spark coming off the bench. She handled the ball, taking some of the pressure off Hartley and (Tiffany) Hayes. So now they were able to stay on the wing and get more open shots.”
Then Moore got into the act. Grabbing a defensive rebound, she missed a three-pointer but Dixon saved the possession on the offensive boards and Moore hit a jumper and then scored two more points on a pair of foul shots to make it 59-53 for a 13-0 run with 4:51 left.
“We did not hit shots,” Williams-Flournoy described the sequence when the potential happy Georgetown ending began to slip away. “Sugar (Rodgers) missed a layup. We turned the ball over twice. I told our young ladies, against a team like Connecticut, you just cannot make those mistakes.
“When we were up by seven, we had to put it up by 10, and then 12. That’s the only way you’re going to give yourself any cushion to beat Connecticut, because they are coming back at you.”
Alexa Roche stopped the Georgetown slide with a layup but Hartley nailed a trey to make it 62-55 with 4:01 left.
The Hoyas shook loose but Moore kept countering scoring UConn’s last six points for a 68-63 victory that sent the Huskies into Tuesday night’s title game against second-seeded Duke, which held off third-seeded DePaul 70-63 in the second game.
“They are a very well coached team, and they have Maya Moore, who hit those big shots,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We hit that spot right there and it really hurt us.”
In all, Moore finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds along with three steals, two blocked shots, two steals and no turnovers.
“I think we are definitely quicker when Lorin comes in like that,” Moore said. “We feel like we have a smaller lineup so we have to just pick up the tempo a little bit. We got a lot of deflections and we did a great job getting a steal and a layup that really sparked us from that point on throughout the end of the game.”
Hartley had 17 points and Dolson had 13 rebounds.
Connecticut was able to limit Georgetown’s hot-shooting Rodgers to 11 points, but senior Monica McNutt scored 17, and Magee had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
“Unfortunately, for Georgetown University, it’s not good when Sugar does not have a good night,” Williams-Flournoy said. “She’s played so well the first two games. She’s going to garnish a lot of attention. She’s going to get the best defender on her, she’s going to get bumped and pushed. It’s a lot for her, to play so many minutes.
“Tonight we had to move her to the point, which takes the scoring away from her and puts more pressure on her having to handle the ball.”
When Duke pulled that major upset on Tennessee that night in 1999, then-coach Gail Goestenkors, who moved to Texas in 2007 and was replaced by McCallie, didn’t think the Blue Devils’ victory was that much of a shocker.
“"I don't know that we ever considered it would be a huge upset," Goestenkors said. "We honestly believed that if we played the game and we stuck to the game plan, played as well as we could, we were going to win."
After Sunday’s game, Georgetown senior McNutt spoke on a similar vein when asked if she thought there was solace in being able to contend with the nation’s top team in the rankings.
“Absolute not,” McNutt said. “In case you haven’t noticed, our program is on the rise. We are past the point of moral victories. We should be in the Elite Eight.”
Unfortunately, unlike Rocky Balboa in the movies, that moment will have to wait until next season to be made into reality.