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women’s basketball Huskies survive a Sooner scare

December 20, 2018

NORMAN, Okla. — Geno Auriemma saw it coming.

Yes, that jumbled mess of a start, Auriemma saw it from 1,600 miles away. He saw it because he knows his team, and he knows from 34 years of coaching basketball at Connecticut how this all works.

Playing their first game in 11 days because of final exams, the Huskies were bound to be flat. They were bound to be rusty. They were bound to start slowly. They were bound to show their deficiencies.

Wednesday at Oklahoma, the No. 1 team in the country was not its normal self — far, far from it, in fact. They were everything Auriemma predicted they would be, and it nearly ended up costing them.

UConn survived a scare, rallying from a double-digit deficit in the second half to hold off Oklahoma 72-63 at the Lloyd Noble Center.

“It was almost like a perfect storm,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “They are a really tough matchup for us.”

Auriemma, who on Monday expressed concern about the Huskies coming off their longest break to date, took unusually long to warm up. They trailed by six points at halftime (37-31) and by as many as 12 in the third quarter. They worked their way back though, even if this was not their finest night.

Ultimately, talent won out. Oklahoma, a proud program in midst of a down season, discovered its strengths at the right time. And yet the Huskies managed to emerge victorious.

Forward Napheesa Collier paced the Huskies with 23 points, including a layup with 3:30 left to put the Huskies in front for good at 63-62. The senior also had 17 rebounds, while Katie Lou Samuelson finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

“Napheesa Collier is the hardest working player in America,” Auriemma said. “She was like a one-man wrecking crew inside.”

Guard Taylor Robertson poured in 23 points for the Sooners, none bigger than the 4-point play she converted to extend her team’s lead to 45-33 midway through the third quarter. The Huskies (10-0) pulled within 52-48 after three quarters and trailed by just one with 6:44 left, and the Sooners (3-7), with the backing of a lively crowd, threatened to hand them an unthinkable result.

UConn, however, avoided its first loss to an unranked opponent in more than half a decade — 57-56 against St. John’s on Feb. 18, 2012 — with a strong fourth-quarter surge. The Huskies closed with a 13-1 run.

Before Wednesday, the Huskies had rolled through the season unscathed. Besides a closer-than-expected 65-55 win over St. John’s at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Huskies had won every contest convincingly. But the Sooners made them work for every basket from the opening tip.

Shaina Pellington scored 16 points for Oklahoma while Madi Williams finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman Christyn Williams added 14 points and six rebounds for the Huskies.

UConn will next be in action Saturday when it travels to face No. 14 California for a 3 p.m. tip.

Camara closer: Junior forward Batouly Camara appears to be closer to returning, as she participated in warmups. Camara has not played since Nov. 24 against Purdue because of a sprained MCL.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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