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Viewpoint No offense: This rare UConn loss easy to paint

January 4, 2019

WACO, Texas — When it was over, when the length and breadth of UConn’s magnificent 126-game regular-season winning streak was dissected in every historical term, this loss was an easy one to paint.

Baylor outscored UConn 52-10 in the paint.

UConn shot 29.2 percent, including 25 percent inside the three-point arc.

The Huskies may not have lost a regular-season game since the overtime defeat on Nov. 14, 2014 at Stanford.

The Huskies may not have lost a regular-season game in regulation since the 76-70 XL Center loss to Baylor on Feb. 18, 2013.

The Huskies may not have lost by double digits since the 13-point defeat to Notre Dame on Feb. 27, 2012.

Well, you can take all the mays out of it when an opponent, dominant inside, hammers you so badly around the basket. You can take all the mays out of it when the UConn offense, a case study in fluidity and creativity, goes stagnant and misses shot after shot. Usually highly contested.

Final: Baylor 68, UConn 57.

And it was no mistake at the Ferrell Center.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey has a grasp on all this. She knows this season’s UConn team, despite being No. 1 entering the night, was no lock to win every game. She also knows holding up the national championship trophy in April is what matters.

“Connecticut gets everyone’s best shot,” Mulkey said. “We’re just one of the elite programs and they’re the elite of the elite. We want what they have. They have a lot of them (11). We just have two.”

Here’s the good news for the rest of the world.

The Huskies aren’t ruining the game anymore.

They haven’t won a national championship since April 2016, more than 1,000 days ago.

And now the Huskies lost a regular season game? Saw their 56-game road winning streak end?

Good grief. Fire Geno. And drop women’s basketball.

“What fun would it be if you won all the time?” Auriemma said. “We don’t lose a lot. What we’ve done is really, really hard.”

The Huskies’ 29.2 percent field goal percentage was their worst in more than two decades. And here’s the thing. They were 11-for-32 on three-pointers. They were nine-for-36 inside the arc. With the game on the line they shot 4-for-20 in the fourth quarter.

“I would think they would suck if they didn’t score 52 in the paint,” Auriemma said. “They got every one of our guys by six inches. We knew that was going to happen. We were OK with that.

“What we weren’t OK with was how hard it was for us to get the shots we wanted. And then when we did, we didn’t make any of them. We knew we would be trading threes for twos. That was the plan going in and it didn’t work. We’re not going to win the game in the lane against these guys, never have since Tina Charles.”

You have to find a different way to beat 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown (who had 22 points and 17 rebounds) and 6-4 Lauren Cox.

“And we didn’t,” Auriemma said.

The UConn bench contributed zero points. Nada. That’s a season-long problem.

Mulkey had watched freshman Christyn Williams run wild in the rout of Notre Dame and she was determined to stop the Huskies in transition. UConn had zero fast-break points.

“We were too content to come down and try to run our offense,” Auriemma said.

Baylor, systematic in getting the ball inside, turned the ball over only five times. There were not a bunch of breakouts in transition. Baylor also took only nine threes, so there were not a bunch of long rebounds leading to fast breaks.

“It’s a slog,” said Auriemma, who called it a miracle UConn was down only one at halftime. “It’s not easy playing against them. Never has been. When you make a lot of shots, it covers up a lot of things. When you don’t, it exposes a lot of things.”

There will be folks who will debate whether a loss like this will be good for the Huskies. Who knows? It might. It might not. The value is in what a team takes out of it.

“What’s disappointing for me is not that we lost — how long did you think we were going to win every game in the regular season?” Auriemma said. “I’m not surprised we lost. I just don’t remember us struggling so much on the offensive end.”

From the start there was a lot of standing around, Auriemma said, and watching somebody else try to win the game. DiDi Richards did a terrific job defending Samuelson. Cox was strong guarding Napheesa Collier. Lou shot 4-for-16. Collier shot 6-for-18.

Brown was freed to do what she does best. Grab rebounds. Baylor clogged the lane. UConn had to hit jump shots. They didn’t hit nearly enough.

“We put our two best defenders on their two best players,” Mulkey said. “That kid (Richards) defended Samuelson with every ounce of energy she had.”

“If we can’t get to (70 points),” Auriemma said. “We don’t deserve to win.”

Williams, who had 28 against Notre Dame, finished with only eight. Auriemma said there was a different look in Williams’ eyes in this game. “She really struggled,” he said.

Yes, this one was a slog.

Auriemma said there was no throwing of water bottles, no wild displays of emotion in the locker room afterward. It’s a different world, he said.

“Clearly, it’s nowhere near the emotion as the past two years when we lost in the Final Four,” Samuelson said. “More anger this year, feeling you could have done things to help the team.”

Samuelson used the same terms as her coach. Stagnant. Looking at each other. Taking difficult shots.

“Whenever a real good shooter like Lou doesn’t make a lot of shots, it’s probably because she is being rushed, which she was a lot,” Auriemma said. “And what happens when you’re being rushed you start to rush even more. And we didn’t do a great job at all to try to get her open.”

Screens weren’t sharp. In the end, Auriemma said, Baylor defended Samuelson as well as she has been defended. That gave Megan Walker and Collier to take threes. They missed a few. They stopped taking them.

“During one timeout I said, ‘We’re trying to invent a way to score without shooting,’ ’’ Auriemma said. “I don’t know if we can do that. Before the next timeout, we’ll see if we can come up with something.

“I said before the season started this is not going to be the typical ‘UConn wins by 40 and thanks for coming.’ Not going to be like that. Our margin for error is very small. The more times we’re in this situation the better we’ll be eventually.”

Samuelson was left to be the one with the harshest assessment.

“I don’t think it’s a knock to our confidence,” she said. “I think it’s a wakeup call … We don’t have enough competitive edge as a team overall and that’s an issue and something we need to fix. If this doesn’t do it, probably nothing else will.”

The final picture has yet to be painted, but it won’t be perfect this year.

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