No. 1 UConn handles No. 13 Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) – Make it 3 for 3 against the Top 25 for UConn.
The top-ranked Huskies breezed through ranked teams this week like they were lightweights on the schedule, leaving no doubt coach Geno Auriemma’s team will again be the one to beat in March.
But after Penn State became the latest ranked team to go down, the real question is, what chance do teams have at beating the Huskies?
“If we keep getting better,” Auriemma said, “then it’s going to be really hard to beat us.”
Just ask the Lady Lions.
Bria Hartley tied a career high with 29 points and Saniya Chong had 16 to help Connecticut beat No. 13 Penn State 72-51 Sunday, snapping the Lady Lions’ 22 game home-court winning streak.
The Huskies (4-0) knocked off their third Top 25 team of the week, beating No. 8 Maryland 72-55 on Friday night and No. 3 Stanford by 19 points on Monday.
That’s scary news for Oregon, Boston University, Monmouth and the rest of the nonconference teams left on UConn’s schedule.
“If we stay stagnant, don’t move forward from here, we’re setting ourselves up to get beat,” Auriemma said. “The fact that we beat three really good teams this week, that’s great. That’s great for the players, great for their confidence. That was a big test for them.”
They built a 23-point lead early in the second half against the Lady Lions (2-1) and held on to win the program’s 199th game against a ranked team.
Breanna Stewart added 14 points for the short-handed Huskies, who were without two of their best players, preseason All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sophomore forward Morgan Tuck. Mosqueda-Lewis injured her elbow against Stanford, and Tuck is expected to miss at least a month after undergoing right knee surgery Tuesday.
Playing short-handed and on the road, nothing bedevils the Huskies.
“I think it shows when we can come into places that get a lot of fans and have a hostile environment, we can still get done what we want to get done,” Stewart said.
With football coach Bill O’Brien and basketball coach Pat Chambers rooting them on from their courtside seats, Maggie Lucas led a late run that helped the Lady Lions make the game respectable. It just wasn’t enough for a comeback win. She came up limping after a 3-pointer early in the second half, taking a brief breather on the bench, but returned a few possessions later.
Her ankle fine after an awkward landing on a defender’s foot, Lucas hit a 3 that pulled the Lady Lions to 52-37 and brought 8,194 fans to their feet. Tori Waldner followed with another 3 and Dara Taylor hit a fall-away jumper to make it 55-42 and start the booming “We Are!” chants from the fans.
Lucas kept it going for the defending Big Ten champions with back-to-back 3s that cut the deficit to 57-48.
The sharp shooting just started too late.
Hartley hit a pair of 3-pointers to help UConn steady itself and put the game away. Stefanie Dolson had 11 rebounds and UConn had 13 steals.
Lucas scored 18 points and Waldner had 11 for Penn State. Penn State shot 30 percent from the floor.
“We got away from our offense today,” Lucas said. “The shots were there.”
The Huskies missed nine of their first 11 shots, which allowed Penn State to hang around and keep the game tied at 10.
With only seven scholarship players, the Huskies’ thin roster got their game together and made the Lady Lions pay.
Chong opened and closed a 12-0 run with 3-pointers to break the game open. Hartley shook off a 0 for 11 3-point shooting game at Maryland to hit one and extend the lead to 25-12. Hartley and Chong combined to score 23 points in the first half to help the Huskies build a 37-22 lead.
“I try not to think about,” missing 3s, Hartley said. “Coach tells me I have to be ready to hit the next shot.”
The Lady Lions played more like the 113th best team in the nation instead of the 13th.
The Lady Lions missed all eight 3-point attempts, shot 23 percent overall from the floor and committed a whopping 10 turnovers. Lucas snapped her 21 for 21 free throw streak with a miss. And Taylor missed an all-alone fastbreak layup attempt, that wouldn’t have mattered much anyway in the final score.
“I saw a lot of inexperience,” coach Coquese Washington said. “I saw a lot of hesitation and indecisiveness. That leads to inefficiency and ineffectiveness, especially on the offensive end. But we need experience, so we like playing these kind of games because it shows a lot about ourselves.”
Penn State would love to turn into the type of elite program the Huskies have built.
First, the Lady Lions have to beat them.
“You can’t look long term like that,” Lucas said. “That team is built up over so many years. But we want to get better every day and be able to compete at a very high level.”