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UConn - Answers for answers

POSTED December 29, 2015
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

            NEW YORK, N.Y. – You kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting. You know, UConn gets that lead to eight or 10 points and then before you can spell Auriemma suddenly the lead is 40 and you’re dozing off in the chair.

            It didn’t happen Monday night at Madison Square Garden. The Huskies slapped No. 5 Maryland and guess what? Coach Brenda Frese’s team had the audacity to slap back. A rare reaction that assuredly had Huskie nation dealing with a nervous twitch.

            Maryland doesn’t fear UConn. The Terrapins stand up where most get knocked down and stay there. Frese said as much after her team’s first loss.

            “I feel like the team responded punch for punch,” said Frese. “Usually the knockout punch comes against UConn and you don’t recover. I love the confidence and swagger that we played with. There was no fear. We competed for 40 minutes.”

            It is all not the norm for the Huskies. It isn’t unknown territory but certainly rarely seen territory. The Notre Dames, South Carolinas and occasional other games that are competitive past the opening five minutes are the exception to what is.

            So in it all you need to check the UConn response. You had to like what you saw this time around. There were 10 turnovers in the first 11 minutes and at times the Garden baskets seemed a little small to accept the ball particularly in the first half.

            Maryland center Brionna Jones, who finished with 24 points on 12 of 14 shooting, ruled the lane. The Huskies looked somewhat discombobulated.

            Barometer is better read, however, on not the Huskies shortcomings but the response to the shortcomings. And don’t rule out the idea that Maryland is just a very good team. Sometimes it is also about what the other team did.

            The Huskies didn’t back up, so often the case when somebody stands up to bully. The Terrapins had answers and UConn had answers for the answers.

            Maryland erased a 21-14 first quarter deficit with an 18-8 run to take a 32-29 lead on a 3-pointer from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. With things going south for the Huskies Saniya Chong, more from here later, scored on a fast break, Breanna Stewart (23 points, six boards, seven assists) drilled a 3-pointer and Moriah Jefferson canned a jumper for a 36-32 halftime lead.

            The Huskies pushed the lead to 40-32 lead early in the third quarter that time when you expected the pull-away to begin. Didn’t happen. Two straight 3-pointers from Kristen Confroy highlighted an 11-1 run and a 43-41 Maryland edge.

            The Huskie response – 10 straight points. Nepheesa Collier started it with a layup, Kia Nurse drained a 3-pointer while Stewart and Tuck each scored baskets and Stewie added a free throw for a 51-43 lead.

            “We’ve talked a lot this season about nothing is going to be easy and we don’t want it to be,” said Stewart. “They kept on fighting and battled us for 40 minutes. This says a lot and goes to show that we are not going to give up. We’re not going to let a team beat us and we know every team wants to beat us this year and they should. A game like this is what you play for, competitive, in the Garden…”

            Maryland refused to back up, however. The Huskie lead ballooned to 12 points, 59-47 early in the fourth quarter only to see it back down to five points, 67-62 with 5:09 left on another 3-pointer from Confroy.

            The game was still in doubt with the Huskies leading, 75-71 with 1:09 to go. Then Chong made her presence felt again. She applied the dagger when she feathered a 3-pointer in from the side.

            “I just said it’s time,” said Chong who has been nursing a leg injury and had been in the training room during the pre-game warmups. “I know what I had to do and went out and did it. I think it just happened. Kia (Nurse) drew many defenders and I was wide open.’

            Answers for answers.

            “Sometimes we make it look real easy and we try to explain to our players that it is not easy and it is not going to be easy,” said Auriemma. “A game like today reminded us all that this not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be really hard when you play good teams and Maryland is a really tough matchup for us.

            We’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to handle games like this. You miss what Kia Stokes did for us defensively. Jones went 12-for-14, I don’t think that happens if we had Kia in there. And we don’t make enough `threes’ because we lost a great shooter (Kalena Mosqueda-Lewis) and nobody has stepped up and filled that role yet.”

            Call it imperfect perfection. The Huskies have rolled off 47 straight wins now. Such is there brilliance that single-digit leads late in the game deem some to call for an investigation.

            There are things to improve. There are good teams that sometimes force the Huskies to do some not-so-good things. But this one was about response.

            UConn hit, got hit back and kept swinging. They adjusted in the second half, slowing the pace, amping on the defense particularly Moriah Jefferson on Walker-Kimbrough 14 points). The `Big Three’, Stewart, Tuck (17 points) and Jefferson (17 points) along with  Nurse (11 points) and a couple of huge plays from Chong had their own answers.

            It wasn’t about what the Huskies didn’t do or weren’t allowed to do. It was how they responded to it all.

            Answers for answers. What they will need in March and April.

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