The Guru Roundup: UConn Shakes Off Texas on Way to Notre Dame 1 vs. 2 Showdown
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team may not be the veritable wrecking ball of recent seasons in the wake of the graduations of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck, but Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies are still causing mayhem despite their view at the moment not being from the top of the sport in terms of the polls.
That could sort itself out Wednesday night when UConn takes its No. 2 position into South Bend, Ind., to face top-ranked Notre Dame in the battle of unbeatens.
It’s the second time in three seasons the two former old Big East rivals will be in a 1 vs. 2 contest.
The last time occurred much later when the Huskies beat the Irish for the 2015 title, but unlike this time, UConn had one setback during the regular season and Notre Dame had two and neither met along the way because the the Irish had moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Huskies became part of the renamed American carved out of the football schools of the old Big East.
Of course, back then the ranking order was reversed.
The setup for Wednesday was put in place Sunday when each team reached 7-0 – Notre Dame blasted unranked Valparaiso 114-54 while here at the Mohegan Sun, home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun, the Huskies handled No. 14 Texas 72-54 in the Hall of Fame/Jimmy V game that used to be separate marquee events on the national women’s card.
It’s no surprise that Notre Dame is ranked where it is, though the Irish have not faced a major test, since coach Muffet McGraw’s group outlasted a crowded contingent for preseason No. 1 rights in the wake of the Stewart-Washington-Tuck exits that saw then land 1-2-3 at the top of the WNBA draft last spring.
But UConn, because of those exits, was expected to be further down the line with a talented but young roster.
Prior to Sunday, UConn and the Longhorns (2-4) had met twice in two recent NCAA tournaments with the Huskies winning 105-54 in 2015 and 86-65 last season.
It went a little better for Texas, which is now 0-8 all-time against UConn., here Sunday, trailing 57-49 at the end of three quarters. Then the roof fell in with Napheesa Collier (8) and Katie Lou Samuelson (5) combining for 13 of the Huskies 15 points in a 15-5 finish to get to the final 72-54 score.
“I’m really disappointed from the sense that I thought our team really competed for three quarters,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “Then, it got really tough. I don’t want to sit up here and make a bunch of excuses, it got tough in the fourth quarter and they out-toughed us.
“I thought they competed a little better, they competed a little longer on possessions, and were just a little tougher than we were and and again I thought we handled the atmosphere and played really well and it’s something our team has struggled with right now playing four quarters.”
The nearly packed house of 9,018 made the atmosphere rather electric.
Texas, which has to battle No. 4 Baylor in the Big 12 later this season, has not shied away from non-conference matchups, losing at Stanford 71-59, at Mississippi State 79-68, and at home to No. 3 South Carolina 76-67 on Thursday.
The Longhorns started this one like perhaps UConn was finally going to stumble after surviving opening night at Florida State, 78-76, at the finish, and then next time out stunned Baylor in the home opener with a fast finish for a 72-61.
They led by as many as six but suffered a lost early when Ariel Atkins went out for the rest of the game after an injury six minutes into the contest.
“That was difficult because she got a very good start for us,” Aston said.
Auriemma said he told his team during the initial Texas thrust, “’You can just take a deep breath. This game is over. You don’t have to Rory about anything.’ They just kicked our asses for five minutes. This is going to keep happening for the next 35 minutes, so don’ worry about it.’
“It was a scare the first five minutes the way the game started. They got stunned. We’re not used to that.”
But they’re still used to the fact that talent takes you a long way and perhaps the only difference so far is that instead of things have done wholesale so far, different players in different games have single handedly done the job to bring the overall current win streak to 82, getting closer to the UConn NCAA record 90 set several seasons ago until Stanford provided the stop.
Now it’s Notre Dame looming ahead to block the latest run but anything is possible.
“It’s really hard to put a label on this team,” Auriemma said. “They just seem to do what they need to do. That’s what it appears to me right now. We don’t appear to be the kind of team right now that just goes in there and posses their will on the other team like we’ve been doing the last couple of teams.
“We’re more of a ‘OK what do we have to do today. Let’s figure it out and let’s do it.’ And it’s a little frustrating at times from a coach’s standpoint. We seem to find someone each game that kind of gets it going for us.
“In the Baylor game it was (freshman) Crystal (Dangerfield). In the Florida State game it was ‘Pheesa. And today it was Kia (Nurse). And it was Kia the other night. And ‘Lou in the second half. So somebody seems to recognize that ‘That’s OK. This is what we need right now.’ And they do it.
“And that’s one of the nice things about playing some of the teams we are playing. We have to play that way. We have to step up. AndI thought today we had a tough fight today. That first five minutes was a real eye opener. ‘Cause we’re used to doing that to people.”
Doing it individually in terms of the boxscore for the home team, Collier finished with24 points, eight rebounds, and five steals, while Nurse had 15, Samuelson had 12, and Gabby Williams had 11.
Texas’ Brooke McCarthy scored 15, while Kelsey Lang had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Duke Stuns South Carolina
Should Connecticut survive Notre Dame, still ahead before hitting the less formidable American Athletic Conference slate are Ohio State’s visit to Hartford, Dec. 19, and a visit to Maryland, Dec. 29.
And if the Huskies are still standing when 2017 arrives at the end of the month, forecasters look down the road to Feb. 13 when South Carolina arrives on campus at Gampel in Storrs and the current UConn streak would be attempting win No. 100.
But that became a little less formidable Sunday when Duke, which has been out of the rankings for a while since dropping out late last season, beat the Gamecocks at home Sunday shocked the Gamecocks 74-63 in Cameron Indoor Stadium as Rebecca Greenwall scored 29 points.
It’s the first time since 2009 that the. Blue Devils (9-1) have beaten a Top 3 opponent.
“I wanted to make a statement, said Oderah Chidom, who added 15 points to the Duke Ambush, “and South Carolina’s a great team to do it agains.”
The Gamecocks (6-1), in their first loss of the season, suffered 19 turnovers, a season-worse number of miscues that ended up with Duke mining 28 points.
And if Duke could be headed back into prominence, Tennessee could once again be outside looking in with a much shorter stay after last season’s first voter banishment in over three decades.
The Lady Vols got run over by No. 4 Baylor at home in Knoxville 88-66, making it three straight Sundays in which winning has become taboo following upset setbacks at Penn State and Virginia Tech before falling at home to the Bears.
Local Roundup: La Salle Stuns Dayton
Three of the PhillyhoopsW crowd had games Sunday and if anything was a major surprise, it happened on the road where La Salle got off to a 1-0 start in the Atlantic 10 with a 54-41 WBB at Dayton, dropping the once dominating Flyers to 3-4 on the season while the Explorers got back to .500 at 4-4 following last Wednesday’s loss at Villanova.
Dayton didn’t help itself, missing 12 foul shots.
Jasmine Alston hit a key foul shot for La Salle with 50.1 seconds left in regulation and then Micahya Owens locked it up with two more free throws with 5.1 seconds left.
Amy Griffin, the leading scorer in the A-10 last season, collected 23 points while Alston dealt a game-high seven assists. Next up the Explorers take their 0-2 Big Five record to Penn (0-1 Big Five) Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Delaware, which had been somewhat of an early surprise winning close games, fell Sunday at home in the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark to Georgetown 54-46 in a non-conference game.
Falling to 5-3, the Blue Hens struggled, shooting 27.8 percent from the floor and committing season highs in fouls (20) and turnovers (15).
Nicole Enabosi had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Blue Hens, while Hannah Jardine had 12 points and six rebounds.
Georgetown (6-2) got 18 points from Dionna White.
While acknowledging that all was not bad, veteran Delaware coach Tina Martin noted, “We did not execute the way we needed to and that put a lot of pressure on our defense.”
Delaware goes off to Loyola, Md., on Wednesday to meet the Greyhounds coached by former Saint Joseph’s assistant Joe Logan.
Temple (4-2) recovered from its loss at Harvard, beating Vermont 54-39 at home in McGonigle Hall as the Owls forced 23 turnovers and got 27 points from their bench in dropping the Catamounts to 3-5.
Alliya Butts and Donnaizha Fountain each scored 16 points for Temple and Fountain also grabbed nine rebounds. Feyonda Fitzgerald had six points and seven assists.
The win spoiled two homecomings on Vermont, coached by Chris Day, the son-in-law of retired NBA official Joey Crawford who was recently in reverse-order an assistant at Penn after stays at Indiana, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle.
One of his assistants is recently graduated Villanova star Caroline Coyer, who suffered a knee injury near the end of last season that deprived her getting drafted to the WNBA.
“I’m surprised no one invited her to a camp last season,” said Curt Miller, coach of the WNBA Connecticut Sun here, Sunday during a pre-UConn game media event held by the local pro team. “But then again the injury had been close to when camps opened.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t get an invite or two next time around.”
Temple next goes to Hampton Wednesday and then its on to Villanova Saturday for a battle of Big Five unbeatens, each at 2-0, the only two unbeaten teams remaining in the local City Series.
Before that game, the Wildcats host Lehigh Monday night in the only game on the local schedule.
And that’s a wrap.