Prior to tipoff, Geno Auriemma scoffed at the idea of his current UConn team beating the U.S. national team in Monday’s exhibition. He even looked relatively subdued toward the beginning, starting the game sitting on the bench while the Huskies fell behind early and looked like they might get blown out.
But before anyone knew it, Auriemma was fired up on the sideline, arguing with the refs and shouting orders to his players on the court as his team climbed out of an early double-digit deficit to take the lead over a group of players looking to make the 2020 Olympic roster.
The Huskies couldn’t pull off the upset after being outscored by in the decisive fourth quarter, ultimately falling, – 79. But they hung around longer than anticipated and went toe-to-toe with some of the world’s best, something that the team hopes will give them confidence moving forward as UConn closes out a grueling nonconference schedule over the next few weeks.
“If you can do that against them, you can do that against anybody in the country, ”senior point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “Now it’s our job to be able to create that every day, not even just when it’s big games, when we have our conference games and when we go into the conference tournament and things like that.”
Former Huskies, from left, Sue Bird, Katie Lou Samuelson, Tina Charles and Diana Taurasi represent Team USA in an exhibition game at the XL Center on Monday night. (Brad Horrigan / The Hartford Courant)
UConn trailed by 15 midway through the first quarter and by 15 at the end of the first. Auriemma joked after the game that he feared his squad would be shut out.
“When you stop making shots on our side, and you play now to their strength, which is playing in transition, and shooting 3s, That’s when they build their confidence, ”USA coach Cheryl Reeve said. “And then all of a sudden, it’s a tie game and they think they can win. Then they change the way they were playing, moving confidently, obviously Geno and [Chris Dailey] and staff are making adjustments. ”
Though a jump shot from Kayla McBride tied things up going into the half, UConn ultimately outscored the US 21 – in the second quarter.
“I think we were a little bit nervous [to start] because we were playing the national team,” Christyn Williams said, “but then we finally got into our groove and started running our offense. ”
After a slow start to the second half, UConn used a – 0 run to regain the advantage once more, capped by a 3 from Makurat. The teams traded baskets before the U.S. Entered the final quarter up one off a 3-pointer from McBride.
“For the most part, for 44 minutes, whatever it was, we hung in there, ”Auriemma said. “And then, we just wore out. They’re just too big and too talented and too smart. ”
Sylvia Fowles led the US with 21 points, while Ogwumike and McBride also reached double figures with and . Aside from the national squad’s loss to Oregon, its – point win on Monday was tied with its Stanford game for the slimmest margin of victory in its latest college tour (the US had previously beaten Oregon State by 30 and Texas A&M by
But more important to the Huskies than the final result or any stat was the realization that, even considering this squad’s ups and downs, they can compete with the nation’s very best. They have improved since Nov. , and they in some ways look like a different team than the one that lost to current No. 2 Baylor just two weeks ago.
way we handled ourselves today was a little bit better than how we handled ourselves two weeks ago, ”Auriemma said. “So in two weeks, we made a lot of progress. And we’re still not there yet, because we’re not mature enough to be a complete team yet.
“But our freshmen have gotten better the last couple of weeks, and it’s given us some more options. The only way that we can get better in these games is to keep playing in these games. If you’re smart, you learn from failure. And hopefully we have. ”
In her first game back after rupturing an Achilles last spring, Breanna Stewart played just over minutes, making her first shot attempt of the game (a 3-pointer) before missing her next six. Stewart had said before the game that she would be limited to minutes or so.
“I thought it was a great day for [Stewart] in terms of the first step, the next step in her process,” Reeve said. “Next time we see her on the practice floor, she’ll grow a little bit, and next time we play a game, we expect her to be even better.”
Stewart started the game for the US, alongside two other former Huskies, Sue Bird and Tina Charles. Bird finished with nine points and three assists, while Charles had six points and nine turnovers. Katie Lou Samuelson added two points from the bench.