LINCOLN, Neb. -- Life had been easy for the UConn women's basketball team for the last two months. Rout after rout. Mesmerizing performance after mesmerizing performance. The opponent didn't seem to matter.
The joyride only continued in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. The top-ranked Huskies won by an average of 38 points. More of the same was expected Saturday in the Lincoln Regional semifinals against 12th-seeded BYU.
That was hardly the case.
Breanna Stewart missed her first seven shots. Bria Hartley was scoreless in the first half. UConn shot just 35.5 percent from the field in the half, missing all eight of its 3-point attempts, and trailed by as many as six points. Holding a one-point lead at halftime was a small consolation prize.
"I was really worried in terms of `how are my players feeling? What are they thinking right now,"' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Shots that they make with their eyes closed are not going in. So part of me was (thinking) `What if this keeps up the whole game?' We sat there as coaches and said, `We've got to find a way to score without taking any outside shots. I don't know how we're going to do that."'
The Huskies would trail 31-30 and 35-34 early in the second half. The game was tied 37-37 with 16:48 left. They were still struggling on offense. But what they never did was panic.
Collectively, UConn (37-0) remained patient and confident that shots would fall at some point and a run would ensue. Exhibiting the fight of a champion, the Huskies scored 10 straight points to break the tie and outscored BYU 33-14 over the remainder of what would be a 70-51 win at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"When teams go undefeated and win by 30-something points, I think everyone thinks, `Oh, they just have it easy,"' UConn senior Bria Hartley said. "But when you think about the really great teams, they are able to fight through adversity. You fight through the tough games. I think this was one of those games for us."
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had three points, two rebounds and two assists in a span of 1:48 to power that 10-0 run by UConn. She would prove to be a rock for the Huskies in the second half, generating nine of her 19 points, nine of her 13 rebounds and six of her eight offensive rebounds in 16 minutes in the half.
Mosqueda-Lewis fought nonstop at both ends of the floor and her tenacity was infectious.
"It just seemed that K was in the middle of every play," Auriemma said. "And I thought the key to the game was the offensive rebounds that she got. And we talked about that in the huddle, in the locker room, `when it's time to win, it's time to make plays. Now it's about your best players making great plays.'"
Stewart and Hartley each had 12 points in the second half for UConn. Stewart and Stefanie Dolson each had five rebounds (two offensive).
How hard did the Huskies work against the Cougars? They finished with season-highs of 20 offensive rebounds and 27 second-chance points.
"We haven't had something like this since the Baylor game (a 66-55 win Jan. 13) maybe as close as it was," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "And it's nice to have a challenge and see our team overcome it, especially right now. We're going to take this and keep rolling and learn from what happened." Read Full Article
The Huskies know that no matter how badly things might be going at a certain point in a game, they have the ability to right themselves through desire and hard work.
Third-seeded Texas A&M is next in the regional final Monday.
"Coach always says it, when you play at Connecticut, you know how to win games," Hartley said. "So if it's close like that, you come out and you play to win. And you can be shooting terrible or whatever is happening on the court, but you still do what it takes to win."
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