It was solid strategy when you think about it, borrowed from a popular tenet of athletic competition. And who knows, perhaps Baylor really thought it was its best chance to beat No. 1 UConn.
What was it? Even a team of All-Americans can’t beat you if they are on the bench in foul trouble – or at least trying to avoid it.
Hard to argue with that, isn’t it?
“Any time you play [a good team] you want to get their best players in foul trouble,” Bria Hartley said. “We do the same thing.”
Foul-trouble did soften UConn’s midsection. Poor shooting did stunt its style. An athletic opponent emboldened with belief relentlessly poked it on its home floor.
It was fun. It was frantic. And for once it featured – finally – a fabulous finish.
UConn, noticeably winded by the experience, remained No. 1 with a difficult 66-55 win over No. 7 at the Ferrell Center.
“There were certain possessions at the end of the game that we simply had to win,” Geno Auriemma said. “And we did. … Even though we were up the entire game (Baylor’s last lead was 7-5), it never appeared as if it was going to get away from them.
“It was going to depend on whether we could make timely plays. That was going to be the key. Making any play was hard tonight.”
Breanna Stewart led UConn (18-0) with 18 points and 11 rebounds to end Baylor’s 69-game home winning streak. But she shot 4 of 14.
Bria Hartley added 17 as UConn increased its winning streak to 24. But she was 7 of 18 and the Huskies were just 22 of 60 from the field.
But sophomore Moriah Jefferson, playing just an hour from her home, had 13 points and no turnovers in 38 minutes.
Amid it all was the worst shooting night of the season of Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims, the nation’s scoring leader (31.8). She scored a season-low 20 points, but they came as the result of great labor. She was 4 of 25 from the field on a night her team shot 18 of 59.
“I am proud to have her on my team,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
And yet, after making a three with 10:54 to play, which cut UConn’s lead to 50-49, she did not score again.
“We tried everything imaginable to stop her,” Auriemma said. “But when it came down to it, we were depending on her to miss. But we wanted to make sure that we she worked hard for her points.”
The Huskies are done with their non-conference schedule. From now to March 3, when they end the regular-season game at Louisville, the remaining 13 games will all be in The American. Where the competition will come from, is entirely different issue.
Nina Davis had 11 points and 17 rebounds for the Lady Bears (14-2). Their only previous loss this season was in four overtimes to Kentucky.
Down 36-27 at the half, Baylor turned the screws in the first 6 minutes of the second half, making life difficult with its suffocating cobra defense, converting quickly on its end.
With 14:28 to play, Ferrell Center reverberating like a bass drum, the UConn lead was down to three (45-42) forcing Auriemma to call a timeout. He needed it. Some of UConn’s shots were barely touching the front iron.
Then UConn took over the game, outscoring the Lady Bears 21-13 to win going away.
This was the first game UConn played this season that absolutely pulsated. Each possession was taken seriously. And UConn’s start showed unusual nervousness.
Within the first formative moments, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (3 of 12, eight points) fouled Sims on a three-point attempt. Stewart then arched an air ball on a three-point attempt. The misplays led to Baylor’s first five points, all by Sims.
“We came out very excited to play here,” Stewart said. “The atmosphere was great, very loud. But sometimes you just need to slow down. That shot I took was really long. We were a little jittery, very excited. And we made mistakes.
Its halftime lead seemed remarkable because Baylor had only six field goals and had gone eight minutes in the half without any at all.
But they survived at the free throw line. Sims tossed up a variety of wild shots – her forte is getting to the foul line – and was 2 of 15. Sims was 10 of 10 from the line.
And soon, UConn’s fouls began to add up. Stefanie Dolson picked up her second with 9:38 to play in the first half and her third seven minutes later. Hartley’s third came with 54.3 to play in the half. Stewart had two.
And UConn was already fighting one down with the loss of Morgan Tuck, who didn’t play because of her sore knee.
Still, UConn was no better. It was just 11 of 30 from the floor in the first half, its fewest baskets in the first half this season. And after Jefferson opened with a quick 10, its offense also came primarily from the line; Stewart’s smooth touch draining all eight of her attempts.
Through it all, UConn managed to stay ahead. The Huskies built a 26-15 lead with 8:00 to play in the first half on a pair of Stewart free throws. It was still 10 (30-20) when she made another two with 4:29 to play.
But there was nothing easy about any of it.