UConn Delivers Early Statement With Win Over No.2 Baylor. By Rich Elliott.
POSTED November 19, 2016
By Rich Elliott
STORRS – Gabby Williams wanted to make sure that the nation knew exactly what it can expect from the UConn women’s basketball team this season. Her teammates did, too.
The third-ranked Huskies refuse to live in the past when Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck were leading them to an NCAA-record four straight national championships. They are all about living in the present and continuing the program’s tradition of excellence.
They proved that Thursday against No. 2 Baylor. They possess plenty of fight. They possess plenty of players capable of making big plays at crucial points.
Freshman Crystal Dangerfield had 19 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals and UConn used a 16-2 run in the fourth quarter to secure a 72-61 victory before 9,049 at Gampel Pavilion.
``We can fight. We can push back,’’ Williams said. ``I think we kind of showed the rest of the country, `OK, it’s not going to be as easy as you think it is to beat UConn this year.’ We wanted to make that statement, and it was good to see multiple guys – almost everybody that played this game – they showed some fight and some fire in them. We played with some edge.’’
The 2015-16 national championship banner was unveiled during a pregame ceremony. UConn then went out and played like a team that is not ready to give up its throne.
The Huskies, who have won 124 out of their last 125 games, extended their winning streak to 77. It was their 14th straight win over Top 5 opponents.
UConn has now defeated two ranked teams to open the season for the first time since winning three straight in 1998. The Huskies earned a 78-76 win at No. 12 Florida State Monday.
``I know that a lot of people don’t believe in us this year,’’ Dangerfield said. ``And we want to send a message every night we step on the floor, especially in our non-conference (schedule) and just let people know we’re still going to fight. We’re going to fight and we’re going to fight as a team. It’s going to take every single one of us every single night.’’
A layup by Kalani Brown tied the game 54-54 with 7:38 left in the fourth quarter. It was gut-check time for the Huskies, and they delivered the knockout blow over the next 6:28.
Kia Nurse assisted on a pair of layups by Williams and Napheesa Collier scored on a putback as UConn scored the next six points. Dangerfield would score on a drive through the Baylor defense in the lane and on a bank shot. And when Collier made another layup the lead was 70-56 with 1:00 remaining.
Samuelson also had four points during the defining run.
``We were in an attack mode more (Thursday night),’’ Samuelson said. ``In the fourth quarter we decided that we were the ones who were going to set the pace. We were going to control it.’’
Williams also drew an offensive foul and had a steal in the surge. Collier totaled three rebounds. Samuelson had two.
To Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, the difference between the teams down the stretch was clear.
``Toughness. Just flat out toughness, taking balls away from posts when they threw it in there,’’ Mulkey said. ``A turnover here or there, just cuts for them on offense. Just toughness. That’s all it was.’’
Samuelson finished with 16 points for UConn. Williams added 14 points, three assists, two steals and two blocks.
Collier contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds, while Nurse had eight points and a game-high six assists.
Samuelson was hardly surprised by the win.
``I think we all have confidence in our team, and we all go into every single game knowing that we can win,’’ Samuelson said. ``So down the stretch we know we have people that are going to step up. I think we are getting more comfortable with each other, and we trust each other to make those big plays. I think that’s the best thing about this team. We trust that someone is going to get that rebound or make that shot. We are not relying on one single person to be that. We are all doing it together.’’
Alexis Jones led Baylor with 23 points (9-of-19 FG) and six assists. She also committed six turnovers.
Two-time All-American Nina Davis was held scoreless (0-for-4 FG) for the Lady Bears (2-1) in 24 minutes.
``Those last six or seven minutes I thought we grew up a lot,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma. ``We really came of age, so to speak. That doesn’t mean we’re old enough that you don’t need to grow some more. But I thought relative to Monday night were really earned it. And we were good (Thursday) night. We were good when we had to be good.’’