There are times when you can tell what the score was by just looking at the eyes of the players after it’s done.
They tell you what you need to know about the conditions that have just conspired to turn a great day into a disappointing one for a team.
And after Monday’s triple-overtime 96-87 loss to Notre Dame, in what essentially was the Big East’s regular-season championship game at Purcell Pavilion, the redness in the eyes of Kelly Faris and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis spoke louder than their soft voices.
“You could say it’s frustrating,” Faris said. “We just played a game we could have won three times. And we lost. Yes, it’s pretty frustrating.”
There was plenty to be frustrated about.
UConn lost to Notre Dame for the sixth time in their last seven meetings, an unprecedented drought for a program known for punishing – not being punished.
In doing so, the Huskies lost a chance to share the conference’s regular season title gain the top seed for this weekend’s postseason tournament.
They squandered opportunities to win the game every step along the way.
“Our resolve is going to have to be different,” Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I don’t know how many times you can lose to the same team and think something different is eventually going to happen.
“Whatever it is, something has to change within our team. It can be done. It’s about looking inside yourself as an individual and decided whether or not you change or if you want to change.”
In regulation, the Huskies led 62-59 with 2:20 to play. In the first overtime, they led 70-64 with 2:48 to play, then missed four free throws and allowed an unguarded Kayla McBride to make Notre Dame’s only three-pointer of the game with eight seconds left to tie it.
“I didn’t want to lose,” McBride said.
In the second overtime, UConn led 80-75 with 2:23 to play and 81-77 with 1:31 left. And finally, the Huskies led for 32 seconds, 83-82, in the third overtime. Notre Dame then scored 14 of the final 18 points over the last 3:42 while UConn made the last three of its 35 turnovers.
“How many chances can you have on the road against a really good team?” Auriemma asked. “You might have one chance, maybe two. But you aren’t going to get unlimited opportunities.”
The end product was a game that was scored 15 times and had 14 lead changes. It was game that McBride (26 points) and Skylar Diggins (29) not only scored 55 of their team’s 96 points but took 59 of its 89 shots.
“I felt like I was protecting my house, like a guard dog,” Diggins said.
And it was a game, another game, that UConn did not get what it needed from many of its core players. Mosqueda-Lewis (26 points) and Faris (21 points, 13 rebounds) led the way.
But Stefanie Dolson, who fouled out after 35 minutes, had 11 turnovers to go with 12 points and 11 rebounds. And although she impacted the game with five blocks in 40 minutes, Breanna Stewart scored just five points, shooting 1-of-7 from the field.
“It’s been that kind of year,” Auriemma said. “I’ve seen many things I’ve never seen before.”
And now the Huskies prepare for the likelihood of a third game against the Irish in the Big East tournament championship game on March 12. And perhaps they will meet again in the national semifinals in New Orleans.
If so, UConn will have to rethink everything it has done, if for no other reason than to prevent it from happening again.
“These are the games you look forward to,” Kelly Faris said. “If the game is on the line, the competitor within you makes everything else go out the window. It doesn’t matter how long you have been out there. It doesn’t matter how long your opponent has been on the court. There is a game out there to win and that should be everything and anything that is on your mind.
“The change [with UConn] has to start individually and become a collective thing.
“I have always said there is something to learn from a loss. There always is. I will sit there and rack my brain, think about things we could have done better. We should have blocked this person out or done this better. There’s going to be a million things that we should have done differently.
“In the end, you have to figure out who wants it more. What are you willing to give up to get it? And it can’t come from just one or two people. It needs to come from an entire team that is willing to give up everything to win.”