Women’s basketball Huskies hold off St. John’s

November 24, 2018

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — They had met 57 times before Friday, mainly as rivals in the Big East. And while the Huskies won the majority of those — 40, in fact — there was the occasional nail-biter

This happened to be one of those.

St. John’s gave UConn all it could handle at the Paradise Jam on Friday. Certainly nothing came easy for the Huskies, who fell into an early rut and needed a bit longer than usual to recover. There were head-scratching turnovers, errant shots and defensive breakdowns. And, most surprisingly, there was a six-point deficit, from which the Huskies needed to work their hardest to recover.

The Huskies eventually found their footing, but this was far from a dominant performance. This was a grind-it-out, work-for-every possession battle. And when it was all over, the Huskies were fortunate to come out in front, 65-55, at the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.

“Not every game is going to be we score 100, the other team scores 50 and we all live happily ever after, you know?” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Some games, it’s going to be a struggle. Some games it’s going to be a struggle to get shots. Some games it’s going to be a struggle to make shots. Sometimes you don’t make free throws. Sometimes the other team that’s used to not making any 3’s makes a bunch of them — at the end of the shot clock. To be a championship kind of team, you’ve got to be able to win all kinds of games.”

All of the Huskies’ weaknesses were on display for 40 minutes: the lack of size in the paint, the shortage of depth, the absence of another bona fide scorer. They were all magnified with help from St. John’s, which handed the Huskies their toughest challenge since last year’s Final Four.

A quick spurt by St. John’s to begin the fourth put the Huskies behind 54-50. However, thanks in large part to their Big Three — Crystal Dangerfield, Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier — the Huskies responded. They went on a 16-2 run, capped by a basket by Collier that gave them a 63-53 lead with just under three minutes to go.

That seemed to ease the nerves of the Huskies (4-0), who had struggled for most of the game to gain any separation. The Huskies lead was just 27-25 at halftime. After three quarters, they were even at 50.

Call it a learning experience for the Huskies, who survived their first test of the season.

“We don’t get many opportunities sometimes to get in those grind-it-out situations,” Samuelson said. “That’s probably something this team needs more than anything.”

Samuelson led all scorers with 19 points while Collier finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists. St. John’s (3-1) got 13 points from Stamford native Tiana England.

Playing back-to-back games for the first time this year, UConn had its endurance tested. England pulled St. John’s within 63-55 with 2:32 to go, but Megan Walker answered with a bucket to extend the lead back to 10.

Ultimately, the Huskies improved to 8-0 all-time at the Paradise Jam. They will look to finish their trip a perfect 3-0 when they face Purdue on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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