Womhoops Guru

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, December 20, 2016

UConn Tops Ohio State and Runs Win Streak to 85

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

HARTFORD, Conn. – Things went somewhat better for No. 12 Ohio State Monday night than a year ago in the Buckeyes’ fourth meeting with Connecticut, which has been No. 1 in The Associated Press women’s poll each time the two schools have played.

Back in Columbus in the opening weekend of the 2015-16 season in November, UConn romped to a 100-56 victory in Ohio State’s Value City Arena, which will be the site of the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The visitors here in the XL Center, one of the Huskies’ three off-campus venues in the state, ran off a 9-0 spurt at the end of the first quarter. They also launched an 8-0 run at the end of the half in the next period.

All-American junior Kelsey Mitchell was unstoppable in scoring 23 points for Ohio State.

That was most of the good news but as has been the situation for several seasons, the best news still belonged to the home team which finished the night with an 82-63 victory to stay unbeaten at 10-0 and extend its current win streak to 85 straight.

That’s the second best ever in NCAA women’s history and four short of the all-time men’s and women’s run of 90 also owned by UConn.

The last time the Huskies got this far and were about to surpass the 88-game men’s mark set by the John Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins, the comparison of the two had a bit of controversy.

Now UConn is poised to pass the Bruin NCAA men’s standard a second time and no one is saying a peep.

Instead, all are marveling at how UConn, perceived back in the fall as about to step down a notch or two in the wake of the graduation of the superstar trio of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson, continues to dominate with a much younger roster.

“We’ve managed to maximize what we have over the past month and hide what we don’t have,” smiled Hall of Fame UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

The Buckeyes were seen back in the fall as the fifth of six major impediments threatening the current Huskies run.

Instead, they joined then-No. 12 Florida State (78-76), which lasted until the final moments of a UConn road stop in the season opener; then-No. 4 Baylor (72-61), in the Huskies’ campus Gampel Pavillion; then-No. 15 Texas (72-54) at the Mohegan Sun Arena an hour away from here in Uncasville; then-No. 1 Notre Dame (72-61) on the road in South Bend, Ind; and now the Buckeyes on the UConn victims’ list of prominent opponents.
Lesser, but still threats, from teams also owning a ranking as DePaul and Kansas State, also were mowed down.

What’s left prior to the start of American Athletic Association play is a trip to Nebraska Wednesday night and then the last major hurdle, played in the road, next Thursday at No. 4 Maryland.

If the Terrapins cannot find the streak-stopping elixir, UConn is likely to cruise all the way to its last non-conference threat in the regular season, (currently No. 6) South Carolina on campus Feb. 13 at which point the run will be new record 99-0 and 145 of the Huskies’ last 146 – the loss being the one at Stanford which ended the 90-0 streak.

As far as ending Monday’s threat for an upset when Ohio State (9-4) trailed by just 40-34 after 20 minutes of play, that came next in a 30-14 third period when UConn mined a 9-0 advantage off turnovers, of which the Buckeyes committed 19 overall in the game producing a Huskies 28-12 domination.

“Take their first six or eight minutes (in the second half) away and it’s a different game,” said Ohio State’s Kevin McGuff. “But to their credit, we came out of the locker room just flat and they came out and took control of the game.

“In general they got 28 points off turnovers and that was the difference.”

Besides Mitchell’s scoring, Ohio State got 15 points from Shayla Cooper, and a double double of 13 points and 15 rebounds from Stephanie Mavunga, a transfer from the former elite roster of North Carolina.

Tori McCoy, who was last week’s national of freshman of the week by the United States Basketball Writers’ Association, was held to two points. Linnae Harper, a prized transfer from Kentucky, scored four points in just her second game since becoming eligible.

“I thought our defense was fine overall,” McGuff said. “We competed on the glass (40-36 UConn), our kids played hard, but we just did not compete well offensively, and they’re the best team in college basketball and turning those turnovers and turn them into points.”

McGuff praised Mitchell and also tossed compliments as to what makes the Huskies what they are.

“We have a chance to be special, it’s just going to take time,” he said of his own lineup getting in synch with the new additions. “They’ve added talent, even though it’s young and new talent, but I think more importantly than that, they have a tremendous culture. Their kids play incredibly hard and they execute as well as anybody in college basketball.

“They really, really execute to a tee. They don’t turn the ball over, they generate a lot of great shots, and that’s what makes it hard. They didn’t do anything spectacular, but they did everything they wanted to do, they did it right, they didn’t make mistakes, they took away some of the things we wanted to do, they crowded the lane or didn’t allow us to drive so they had a great game, they executed it perfectly, and their kids in general just execute what they want to do.”

The new Huskies breed had Napheesa Collier, last week’s USBWA national player of the week, score 27 points and grab 11 rebounds, Katie Lou Samuelson scored 26, Kia Nurse had 11, and Gabby Williams grabbed 12 rebounds.

“We knew it was going to be really difficult to guard them and we know we’re not going to be able to stay in the same defense the whole game, so we just kept changing things up a little bit, and showed them a different look every now and then, and (Mitchell) is impossible to guard,” Auriemma said.

“There’s no shot she won’t take and can’t make, it seems like,” Auriemma continued. “So once we got that under control a little bit, and we talked about it at halftime, the game was going to be won by what kind of offensive possessions we were going to have.

“And obviously, once we got ‘Pheesa going and ‘Lou was already going, it was fun to watch. It was really fun to watch. When they had 34 at the half and they’re averaging 90, I thought if we hold them to 34 for the second half we’re going to be in great shape. We got them to 29,” Auriemma explained.

“It’s always difficult, a fine line, when you go against a player like that – how many do you let them get for her cause you start worrying if we show her too much attention and she gets everyone else involved, now it’s just going to start to snowball. So we tried to be conservative with what we did.

“I don’t think there’s ever one player that’s going to beat us by themselves, I don’t think. I could be wrong but I’ll take my chances. We did a great job on their team as a whole and that was something for us, too, to hang our hat on. That was pretty good.”    


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