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Second half surge and Griffin lead Huskies past Tennesse

POSTED January 24, 2020
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                HARTFORD – Sometimes you need one of those somehow games. You know the kind, where on those nights, not much is happening but somehow you find a way. That was No. 3 UConn Thursday night.

                On a night when the storied rivalry with No. 23 Tennessee was revived after lying dormant for 13 years the Huskies somehow survived an offensive meltdown to grind out a 60-45 victory in front of 13,659 at the XL Center.           

                The Huskies somehow found a way despite shooting 31.5 percent (23-for-73) from the floor.

                The Huskie somehow found a way despite a combine 13-49 shooting effort from their big three – Crystal Dangerfield (6-for-20), Christyn Williams (4-for-14) and Megan Walker (3-for-15).

                The Huskies (17-1) somehow found a way to overcome a subpar performance from Oliva Nelson-Ododa who played just 22 minutes.

                The Huskies somehow found a way to lift its game after trailing the entire first half after scoring the first basket of the game.

                How? A sticky, stuffy second half defense and a precocious freshman named Aubrey Griffin.

                The athletic 6 foot-1 Griffin was a whirlwind and the spark the Huskies needed with a career high 13 points and seven rebounds.  She consistently found a path to the offensive boards, keeping possessions alive with five rebounds and had her hands on.

                Trailing, 31-28, at the half, UConn went on a game-deciding 17-2 tear in the third quarter keyed by Griffin to take a 45-33 lead. After four points from Williams, Griffin scored off a fast break and then hit a foul shot to put UConn up, 35-31. After an Anna Makurat three-pointer, she added a layup for a 40-33 lead.

                “I just went out there and did what my team needed me to do,” said Griffin. “It was just about being aggressive and staying aggressive the whole time.  Keep attacking the basket. It felt good because the energy in the gym was amazing.

                Coach Geno Auriemma called Griffin the difference-maker in the game.

                “As soon as (Aubrey) came in she made a play. We talked about that with her and Anna (Makurat) and said when you guys go in you have to make some plays and they both did, Aubrey especially,” said Auriemma. “It seemed like every defensive possession she had a hand on the ball. She’s got a lot to offer. At some point during the game I said to CD (assistant coach Chris Dailey) we have to get her ready for the NCAA Tournament, in her comfort zone. She was amazing today.”

                The Huskies also ramped up the defense, helping make the second half one miserable experience for the Lady Vols. Tennessee shot just 6-of-26 in the half and committed 12 turnovers, nine in the third quarter, finishing the game with 27.

                The Vols scored just 14 points in the second half, seven in each quarter.

                “The second half pressure got to us,” said Tennessee coach Kellie Harper. You’ve got find composure and take care of the ball or you don’t stand a chance. We lost our composure completely. They came out and punched us in the mouth and we did not handle it.”   

                Such was not the case in the opening half. The Huskies shot like the basket was quarantined and trailed early, 7-2. Dangerfield (14 points) kept the Huskies solvent with a trio of jumpers as the first quarter ended, 16-14.

                UConn continued to struggle in the second quarter and slipped behind, 26-18 on a three-point shot from Jazmine Massengill.

                UConn, however, made rallied to make sure the get didn’t get away. Walker canned a three-pointer and Griffin hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 26-23. Griffin added another hoop off fast break to make it a one-point  game.

                Striking distance for Griffin and the defense to take over in the second half.

                “it was a dogfight from beginning to end,” said Dangerfield.

                “It was a struggle, a huge struggle. We don’t necessarily have a lot ways to score if we’re not making shots,” said Auriemma. “Liv gave us a lot late, late in the game and we need that otherwise we don’t have a lot ways to score. Crystal kept us in the game the first five or six minutes but it was like nobody else could make a shot. Wide open shots, when you’re not making any what else can you do. All you can do is keep shooting them. We had to battle today.”

                Still, the Huskies found a way.       

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