By JOHN ALTAVILLA
HARTFORD – On occasion, an opponent will confront UConn with the gumption few others are capable of generating. It doesn’t happen much. But when it does, you can tell.
Over the course of its first six games, the Huskies had already toyed with a pair of Top 20s, Texas A&M and Purdue. UConn beat them by a combined 65 points; not exactly Colgate clean (70 points), but noteworthy.
Monday night, No. 9 Maryland, its first Top 10 foe, came in with a specific specialty Geno Auriemma wasn’t sure his unbeaten team had.
With their size and strength, the Terps crash the glass, with special emphasis on responding with a push for every shove. Turtle shell tough, yes, the Terps are that.
Yet, the question was would it be enough to crash the party the Huskies have been throwing this season.
Well, there was a lot of crashing going on. Maryland played a game Randy Edsall, its football coach, would likely appreciate in the effort to disrupt the flow which has led to a pair of 100-point games for the Huskies.
But it wasn’t enough. Behind 14 points from Stefanie Dolson and 13 from freshman Breanna Stewart, the Huskies withstood, 63-48, before 11,645 at the XL Center.
“I am just really, really proud of how we battled,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “There was no quit in this team.”
The return of UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (concussion), after one missed game, lasted just 13 minutes in the first half. She suffered a contused quad in the first half on a traveling call and could not play in the second half.
“I would say is doubtful for Thursday,” Geno Auriemma said.
As hard as Maryland played, and as well as it rebounded (39-35 advantage) there were 26 turnovers that didn’t help. It likely offset a defensive effort that held UConn to just 38.3 percent from the field (23 of 60).
“It’s always nice to win a game in which you didn’t shoot well,” Aureimma admitted. “To win a game like that is really a good sign for us. We didn’t win it by running up and down and making a bunch of threes. We had to earn it by beating a very physical team.”
Here was the line of the night, and one that epitomizes the player who produced it: UConn senior guard Kelly Faris had eight points, eight steals, seven assists and seven rebounds with zero assists.
Maryland was led by Tianna Hawkins (14 points, 10 rebounds) and junior Alyssa Thomas (10 points). But Thomas held to a 2 for 12 shooting night, primarily by the indefatigable Faris.
“This was a great example of how someone can dominate a game and take just six shots,” Auriemma said. “Kelly dominated the entire game.”
The Terps cut a 39-24 lead with 17:08 to play to seven (40-33) four minutes later, but a three-point shot by Brianna Banks (11 points), a three-point play by Bria Hartley and an effort hoop by Kiah Stokes gave UConn a 48-33 lead with 10:02 to play.
“Brianna has exceeded all of the expectations I had for her this early in the season,” Auriemma said.
Now the Huskies (7-0) prepare for Thursday’s clash with No. 10 Penn State at Gampel Pavilion. Following that, UConn will take 12 days off for tests before resuming the schedule Dec. 19 against Oakland (Mich.) back in Hartford.
“I’m sure we will see [UConn] again [in the NCAA Tournament],” Thomas said.
As strong as Maryland (4-2) had been off the boards, its problem for the rest of the season will be what to do with its backcourt.
Junior Laurin Mincy, an ACC preseason first-team pick, is out for the season with a right ACL injury suffered Wednesday. She is the third players lost to the team because of injury.
Thomas and Hawkins have strengthened the Terps up front, but no more so than Mincy had bolstered the backcourt.
Mincy’s injury left Maryland with only eight players for the game, three of them freshman. And that provided Auriemma the idea he could press the Terps guards, one which Maryland tried to counter by using Thomas, a preseason All-American, to help bring the ball up.
And so UConn did, initially with its new starting lineup, one that did not feature Caroline Doty, who played 19 minutes off the bench,
But even though the Huskies forced 13 turnovers in the first 12 minutes – and 15 in the first half – the Terps matched their intensity for most of the frentic first 20 minutes.
The Huskies took a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes, forcing three turnovers in the process. Then things evened up right across the board until the Terps pulled within 17-15.
At that point, Stewart took over. She scored seven straight points, followed by a three-pointer by Mosqueda-Lewis. And suddenly the Huskies were ahead, 27-15, with 3:50 to play in the half.
The momentum was temporarily stunted when Dolson fouled Katie Rutan shooting a three with a half-tick left on the shot clock. Rutan made the three free throws.
“I am not completely happy with how we responded to the physical play,” Faris said. “I think we could have responded better.”
But Dolson came right back to score and two hustle baskets by Faris pushed the Huskies to a 33-20 halftime lead.