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uconn women’s basketball UConn women’s takeaways: Cold shooting nearly dooms Huskies

December 20, 2018

They’re not all going to be easy. They’re not all going to be drama-free blowouts.

Despite what history might say, UConn does in fact play close games before the calendar flips to March. Wednesday was a reminder of that, as the Huskies rallied from 12 points down in the second half to beat Oklahoma 72-63 at the Lloyd Noble Center.

After a lackadaisical first 30 minutes, the Huskies found their stride in the fourth quarter. They outscored Oklahoma 24-11 during that stretch, shooting 8-of-19 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. The Sooners, meanwhile, missed 11 of their final 15 shots.

The top-ranked Huskies — 10-0 and winners of 125 straight regular-season games — clearly have areas to address as they head to the West Coast to wrap up 2018. And California, which is 9-0 and ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, may be a lot more unforgiving than Oklahoma.

Without further ado, here are five takeaways from a surprisingly difficult win:

Cold from the floor: There’s an adage that says jump-shooting teams “live by the 3 and die by the 3.” UConn, which gets most of its offense from around the perimeter, nearly watched its greatest strength evolve into a weakness. The Huskies shot 3-of-17 from 3-point range, including 0-of-6 in the first half.

Katie Samuelson, the nation’s sharpest 3-point shooter a year ago, was just 1-of-6 from long range. Crystal Dangerfield was 1-of-7.

The shots weren’t falling. The deficit was growing. The crowd was getting rowdier. And yet, the Huskies managed to squeak out a victory largely because they were playing Oklahoma, not Notre Dame, Oregon or Baylor.

Clearly, moving forward, the Huskies will need to become more balanced offensively. They have no other choice.

Experience wins out: The grit and resolve of UConn’s seniors was on display in crunch time. Napheesa Collier and Samuelson combined for 18 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Huskies avoid their first loss to an unranked opponent since 2012.

Collier, who finished with 23 points and 17 rebounds for her seventh double-double of the season, scored six straight points to vault the Huskies in front, 66-62, with 52 seconds left. Without her — and Samuelson, for that matter — the Huskies would’ve been toast.

Slow it down: Oklahoma carried a reputation of being a run-first team — you know, the type that UConn usually eats up in the open court.

Surprisingly, though, the Huskies’ transition offense never got going. They finished with 10 fast-break points, well below their average (17) coming into the game.

Credit goes to the Sooners’ athletic backcourt — primarily Shaina Pellington, Taylor Robertson and Madi Williams — for cutting down the passing lanes and disrupting the flow of UConn’s attack.

Search for consistency: Playing her first game in 17 days, sophomore Megan Walker was anything but eased back onto the floor. She played 35 minutes, finishing with just four points on 2-of-9 shooting.

The Huskies came into this season expecting more from Walker, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, and so far, the results have been mixed. A better Walker would mean a deeper, more dangerous lineup.

No surprises: Auriemma was right. Just as the Hall of Fame coach had predicted, the Huskies — playing their first game in 11 days because of final exams — came out flat. For most of the night, they lacked rhythm on offense and energy on defense.

Oklahoma shot 52 percent in the first quarter to jump in front, 21-19. Altogether, the Sooners led for all but 9:18.

Collier said postgame that the Huskies “just weren’t focused like we needed to be.” It showed.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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