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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Short-handed UConn passes major test

There was actually some drama and uncertainty surrounding top-ranked UConn tonight.

Down to seven full scholarship players due to the injuries to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck and with fouls to their frontcourt players mounting the Huskies were on the verge of losing control of the game against No. 8 Maryland.

Stefanie Dolson headed to the bench with 15:16 to play with the Huskies up by six. Kiah Stokes had three fouls at that point and Maryland had to figure it was now or never. Fielding a lineup of Brianna Banks, Stokes, Bria Hartley, Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart the Huskies began to pull away.

After Stewart hit a pair of free throws Banks calmly drained a 3 from the right corner and converted a layup 84 seconds later. Jefferson sandwiched a layup and 3-pointer around an assist to Stewart and UConn was rolling.

Using just six players in the second half the Huskies outrebounded Maryland 26-17 and held the Terrapins to a mere 17 points to emerge with a 72-55 victory.

"Everybody just assumes that we are going to win and win by a lot it doesn't matter how many players we have, who is in and who is out," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "In reality, it is not as easy as you would like to think.

"One of the things I was trying to prove to our players, I think we proved Monday we have the ability to be a great team and tonight I wanted them to come out and prove we are a great program, those two things are not necessarily the same thing. There are lots of teams that are great teams but we have an opportunity tonight to prove that we are a great program, we don't rely on certain individuals, it is the strength of our team, the strength of our program, the culture that we have created that has allowed us to do some of the things that we do."

The contributions came from a variety of places.

Stewart had an explosive first half with 19 points but caught grief from Auriemma at halftime for not recording a single rebound in the second half. She promptly had seven boards in the second half including three in rapid succession early in the half. Moriah Jefferson and Brianna Banks seemed reluctant to shoot, especially from the perimeter, in Monday's win over Stanford. They each had a key 3-pointer, combined for 24 points, five assists and no turnovers while playing 35 and 25 minutes respectively. After a quiet first half in her first start of the season Kiah Stokes pulled down six rebounds and had two pivotal blocked shots. Even Bria Hartley, for as horribly as she shot the ball (4 of 21 from the field, 0 for 11 from 3-point range), contributed with six assists and some pretty solid defensive work on Alyssa Thomas.

"When you come to Connecticut and you play in this particular program there are certain expectations and you have to try to reach those expectations and sometimes it is on your terms and sometimes things are forced upon you and today Moriah Jefferson, Brianna Banks they were phenomenal," Auriemma said. "As good as Kiah was on Monday against Stanford that is how good Moriah and Brianna Banks were. That is what teams do."

Stewart and her teammates were delighted to leave the Comcast Center with a second straight win over a top 10 team.

"Even when we have a little adversity, we two injured players we are still coming out and playing Connecticut basketball, we are going to come out and get a win even if it is a sloppy win," Stewart said. "We came out and got it done."

Now UConn heads to Penn State to play the No. 13 team in the country. Among those expected to be in attendance is Class of 2014 recruiting target Kia Nurse. Nurse, who is lists UConn and Penn State among her finalists, has not committed to a school despite what might have been reported and no commitment is expected before Monday.

In the post-game press conference Maryland coach Brenda Frese said she would be interested in continuing to play UConn.

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