UConn fails to seal the deal
UConn, spurred on by an energized sellout crowd, had the defending national champion Baylor squad on the ropes.
Brittney Griner, the reigning national player of year, was limited to four first-half points thanks to timely traps by the Huskies. Fellow All-American Odyssey Sims' only basket in the opening 20 minutes came when she raced by everybody for a transition layup.
UConn's national-leading defense certainly lived up to the advance billing and with 3 1/2 minutes the Huskies had a chance to build on a nine-point lead. Yet, when they needed to deliver the knockout punch, they were unable.
Rather than heading to the locker room at halftime with a double-digit lead, the Huskies needed a pair of late Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis free throws to go in with a slim three-point edge.
"I thought we were in control of the game for the whole first half until the last three minutes and it just goes to show you that against a really good team when mentally you make a couple of mistakes how quickly the game can change," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "As well as we played defensively and as well as we executed defensively, it should have been a 15-point game in the first half instead of a three-point game. That changes everything. We knew they weren't going to get 26 in the second half, that is not going to happen. I don't know that last three minutes was the deciding factor in the game but I think it was indicative of things that happened in various points in the game that decided the game."
Other than Griner's 21 second-half points, the statistics that jumped off the box score were the 18 UConn turnovers and 21 Baylor offensive rebounds. Auriemma seemed more distressed about the turnovers even if some of them were a result of the raveling happy officiating crew in the early stages of the game.
"It seemed like every turnover tonight was a bad one," Auriemma said. "Every time we threw it away, it was for a layup those are killer turnovers. We knew we weren't going to make a lot of layups but there weren't many layup to be had but we needed to shoot a better percentage. I thought it we shot 45 percent we would win the game but I wasn't counting on 18 really bad turnovers. The 21 offensive rebounds what are you going to do? You can't have it both ways. It is disappointing that Kiah Stokes and Stewie (Breanna Stewart) are not ready to play in this game, that really, really (ticks) me off because that would eliminate some of those and that is just the fact of the matter. Either we have to get better at coaching them or they have to get better as players."
Auriemma said he doesn't have an explanation for Stewart's current funk but it was telling that he played the reigning national high school player of the year just seven minutes against Baylor.
"When you are a young player and you get stunned at some point during the season it takes a lot to recover," Auriemma said. "I don't know exactly when it happened but right now Breanna Stewart's mind is not going to let her be the kind of player that I think she can be. Maybe a month from now that changes right now it is not good up there and that is where it is. It is not good because there are things that she is struggling with on a regular basis so that gets into your head."
As good as Griner was, UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis may have been the best player on the court for long stretches of the game. Still, the sophomore star was in no mood to celebrate her individual brilliance.
"It seems like every big game we come into we get up and we hit them in the mouth first but we come up short," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "It's almost like the (other) team turns up the volume, it seems like. Unless we change the attitude or something we are going to keep getting the same result."
Mosqueda-Lewis was upset at herself for not attempting her first shot in the second half until there was 10:45 remaining. Still, she finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds.