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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

UConn responds to test from feisty Bulls

I'm sure there are those people around the county who wonder what will happen when UConn is faced with an actual competitive game in the second half rather than just figuring out when it the best time to pull the starters.

Well, when South Florida freshman Kitija Laksa hit back to back 3-pointers to pull the Bulls within a point with 7:31 left in the third quarter, the Huskies were finally faced with some crucial possessions to play.

How did they do? Well chew on some of these numbers. When it was a 35-34 game UConn was shooting 36.6 percent from the field (15 for 41) but went 14 for 24 (58.3 percent) the rest of the way. On the other side of things, USF shot 32 percent the rest of the way which is right around what they were shooting at that time. It added up to a hard-earned 75-59 victory.

"Coach (Geno Auriemma) said it in the locker room and so did we that we show that we could (execute with the game on the line)," UConn senior forward Breanna Stewart said. "This is what you play basketball for."

After Laksa drained her fourth and fifth 3-pointers of the game to make it a 35-34 game and after a UConn turnover, the Bulls had a chance to take the lead. However, USF missed back to back shots and misfired on four straight shots. Meanwhile Napheesa Collier and Morgan Tuck scored in the lane, Kia Nurse and Tuck hit 3-pointers and Gabby Williams connected on a jumper to make it a 47-36 game.

"Those are the better games when the team isn't worried about 'UConn' they are just coming out and playing their game," said Tuck, who had 22 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and was the only person in the game to play at least 25 minutes without turning the ball over. "That is why we came to UConn, not for 40-point win or a 50-point win, you come for the game where it is a sold-out crowd, it is loud and you are in a hostile environment and everybody watching wants you to lose. That is why you came here so it is a great environment to play and I think it gets us going a little bit."

Tuck, who missed Friday's win at Houston due to soreness in her surgically-repaired right knee, led three players in double figures for UConn. Kia Nurse matched her season high with 16 points while Stewart 12 points and 11 rebounds. Moriah Jefferson had all eight of her points in a span of 2:07 late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter while Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams combined for 15 points and eight rebounds.

Courtney Williams had game highs of 26 points and 13 rebounds and Laksa had 17 points for USF (10-4, 3-1) but the Bulls, playing without leading rebounder Alisia Jenkins because of an ankle injury, had no other players with more than two field goals.

With UConn coach Geno Auriemma opting not to play junior guard Saniya Chong as a precaution because he didn't like how she looked dealing with her season-long fight with IT Band Syndrome, the Huskies went with only seven players until the very end.

"We knew going in this was going to be really hard and we prepared a little bit different," Auriemma said. "There is a little different vibe on this team because they know that this team has played us enough times that they think, rightly so, that they are just as entitled to win this conference as we are, they act like it and play like it."

In Williams' eyes, the Bulls needed to push back when UConn made its runs in the third and fourth quarters.

"You know they are going to go on a run," Williams said. "We just had to answer and we didn't do that."

Williams recorded her fourth 20-point game against UConn but before the senior guard graduates, she wants something that has been elusive - a victory against UConn.

"We have to get one, we have to get them at least once," Williams said.

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