After having a miserable first half at Baylor, with four turnovers, Bria Hartley was reminded by Geno Auriemma she needed to do better. He did so in a way she would not forget.
Hartley listened intently, just like she always does. And she didn’t make another mistake in the second half on the way to a redemptive 17-point performance.
Well, Hartley did not struggle on Sunday at the Rutgers Athletic Center in any capacity. Not even with her jammed left thumb tightly wrapped. She scored a career-high 30 points, shooting 11 of 15 with a career-high six turnovers to lead UConn to a 94-64 win over Rutgers.
“It hurts a little bit, no big deal,” Hartley said. “I don’t shoot with my left hand anyway. I’ve been streaky my entire career.”
Hartley, who was 35 of 95 from the field in her last eight games, credited her father for her emotional toughness.
“I was brought up that way. My dad was like that with me. I took AP chemistry in high school and got an 85 on a test and I thought, “Hey, wow, I got an 85.’ And his reaction was, ‘Seriously, an 85?’ The next time I took a test, I got a 90. And it’s the same with the trainer I work with at home. He is always on you, yelling in your face. That has helped me learn how to respond.’”
UConn (19-0, 6-0) has now won 26 straight games, the sixth longest winning streak in program history. It never trailed, was never really threatened.
“It’s Connecticut and it’s everyone else,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said
And now, unless the Big 10 expands to Storrs, or the two reunite as non-conference partners, UConn has crossed the Raritan River to play basketball for the last time.
Breanna Stewart scored 23, shooting 7 of 11 in the first half to score her first 16. She added nine rebounds with four blocked shots. Stefanie Dolson added 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
And Moriah Jefferson, the indefatigable sophomore point guard, was 6 of 8 from the floor to score 13 points with eight assists.
“We had a very good flow the entire game,” Hartley said.
That goes double for Jefferson. She had no turnovers in 32 minutes. She has not turned the ball over once in her last 70 minutes.
“That’s two games in a row that she’s played more like a senior,” said Auriemma. Jefferson had no turnovers in 38 minutes at Baylor.
Freshman Tyler Scaife led Rutgers with 22 points. Kahleah Copper added 20. They also combined for 34 of their team’s 62 shots.
Over the course of the series, which began in 1996, UConn suffered some noted defeats, including a two-point loss in Maya Moore’s freshman season (2007-08). But that was the last time the Huskies have lost to the Scarlet Knights. They play again March 1 at Gampel Pavilion.
The chance for that streak to end came to an end for fairly early. UConn did not allow Rutgers (13-4, 4-2) to set the pace. The Huskies took care of it, leaving skid marks in the first 15 minutes.
“This is not an easy place to come and get your flow going,” Auriemma said. “Getting off to a great start is always a point of great emphasis when he come here. This is one of the best starts we’ve had here. … We have such great team balance. Everyone played great.”
UConn jumped to leads of 6-0, 30-14 and finally 41-20 after a basket from Stewart with 4:58 to play in the first half.
Rutgers briefly regained its footing from there, outscoring UConn 9-2 down the stretch to cut the lead to 43-29 at the half. There still were moments when Auriemma really didn’t seem that happy, notably in the final three seconds when he took a timeout to call a play and it blew up almost immediately.
Still, it all turned out well in the end, even after Stewart missed the closest thing you will ever get to an alley-oop (from Hartley) in women’s basketball early in the second half.
“It was such a great pass,” Stewart said. “It was like, ‘Oh my God,
The 94 points were the most scored by UConn against Rutgers since it also scored 94 on March 5, 2001.
The big problem for the Scarlet Knights were limited offensive options. Scaife, the AAC’s leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, scored 15 points in the first half. Copper, their leading scorer, added 10. They were the only two players to score for Rutgers until Betnijah Laney’s basket with 6:25 to play in the half cut UConn’s lead to 36-20.
This was not an isolated problem. In the loss at Memphis, Rutgers did not get a point from its bench. They had only three on Sunday.
UConn returns home this week for games on Wednesday (Memphis) and South Florida (Sunday) at the XL Center where the Huskies last played on Dec. 5.
The Huskies were coming off their 11-point win at Baylor last week, one in which they shot only 22 of 60 from the field. But they shot 56.5 percent on Sunday, 9 of 19 from three.