No. 2 UConn 63, Rutgers 44
TURNING POINT – The Huskies led 25-22 at halftime. It was their lowest scoring half this season. They shot 28.1 percent from the field (2-of-9 3-pointers) and committed eight turnovers. But they came out at the start of the second half as if all of their futility had never happened. UConn made its first three shots and six of nine, scoring the first 13 points of the half as part of a 17-2 run. Maya Moore started the run with a 3-pointer 13 seconds into the half. Tiffany Hayes and Bria Hartley also had 3-pointers to help the Huskies pull away.
“That’s the way we need to start the game,’’ Moore said. “Every time you’re on the road it’s so important to get the crowd out of it and that’s the best way to do it. To come out of the gate the first five minutes before that first media timeout and make sure that you dominated.’’
Said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer: “You could be right there in the game and they’ll strike so fast. It’ll be a three-minute spurt and they’ll knock out 10 points so fast that you look up and say, `Well, dang, I was within three points and now I’m down 15.’ You cannot lose focus for a second.’’
UNSUNG HERO – Bria Hartley. She finished with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes. But it was how she persevered after a poor first half that was impressive. She had two points on 1-of-8 shooting (0-of-4 3-pointers) and three turnovers in 19 minutes in the half. Never losing confidence, Hartley responded with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting (3-of-4 3-pointers) and zero turnovers in 15 minutes in the second half.
“It’s very important (to have a short memory) because you still have to come out and shoot with confidence every time you touch the ball and look at the basket,’’ Hartley said. “Everyone misses shots. You just have to keep playing.’’
BEST ‘X’ AND/OR ‘O’ – The Huskies tried to force the ball inside many times unsuccessfully in the first half. In the second half, they stopped forcing things and focused on capitalizing on their open looks at the basket. UConn was 6-of-10 from 3-point range in the half and also scored 12 points in the paint in outscoring Rutgers 38-22.
“That’s why you can’t get all whacked out about whether shots are going in or not,’’ Auriemma said. “You can get upset about what kind of shots you’re taking or if you’re not getting good shots because you’re not … We threw a couple of horrible passes in the first half because we spent a lot of time trying to force the ball into the post and Rutgers did a really good job keeping us from doing that. And in the second half we came out we didn’t try to force it in there to Stefanie (Dolson) or Maya. We just said, `Look, we’re going get a lot of open shots. Take them. Don’t spend the whole game trying to force it in the middle.’’’
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS – Hayes was injured in the first minute of the game for the second time in four games. She was poked in the right eye by Erica Wheeler 41 seconds in and had to leave the game for a span of 7:28. Hayes was ultimately brought to the locker room where she was tended to by the Scarlet Knights’ team doctor. “They just took me in the back and he put some numbing drops on my eye so I wouldn’t feel the pain,’’ Hayes said. “And it lasted for like however long he said, 30 minutes I think or whatever he said. So I had to keep getting it at halftime and after the game they gave me some more. So it helped out a lot.’’ Hayes sustained a mild concussion after a collision with Moore 44 seconds into the first half against Louisville Jan. 15. … Hayes’ propensity to repeatedly fall down during games is an annoyance, according to Auriemma. “I don’t worry about it, to be honest with you,’’ Auriemma said. “And I don’t think anybody else worries about it on our team. It is what it is. I think it’s a lot less than what it used to be. I thought (Wednesday) she played under great control. I thought she had great body control and made great decisions with the ball. I think more than anything the coaching staff – Shea (Ralph), (Chris Dailey), Marisa (Moseley), (team trainer) Rosemary (Ragle), probably – they’re just annoyed. She just falls down and they just tell her, `Get the (heck) up.’ I don’t think anybody worries, `Oh, my God.’ I think they just get annoyed.’’ (To Hayes) Would you agree with that?’ (Hayes) `Pretty much.’ She sometimes loses control of her bodily functions. (Hayes) `He’s right.’’’ … Talk about staying the course: Khadijah Rushdan was scoreless in 37 minutes for Rutgers (0-of-11 FG). But she had nine rebounds and tied a season-high with nine assists. … The Huskies stayed in New Jersey Wednesday night rather than fighting the brutal snowstorm back to Connecticut. The storm left numerous cars stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike, the George Washington Bridge and Interstate 287, just to name a few spots.
LOOKING AHEAD – The Huskies (18-1, 8-0 Big East) will travel to Cincinnati (8-11, 1-6) to meet the Bearcats Saturday (2 p.m.; CPTV). Former UConn assistant coach Jamelle Elliott is in her second season as the head coach at Cincinnati and this season has been a struggle. She is down to only seven healthy players.
“We just talked in the locker room just (Wednesday) about you get knocked out or you get poked in the eye or you get whacked with a screen, and Stefanie got hit … There’s all kind of things happening to players all over the country,’’ Auriemma said. “And for our team, you have two choices … You either back down and stop and give in or you figure out a way to get through it. And it’s ironic that we’re going out to Cincinnati because there’s probably only one team that’s probably in the same situation that we’re in with injuries and being down in numbers. And at Cincinnati, I know Jamelle’s really frustrated. And I can tell she’s really frustrated because she’s kind of in hiding and she won’t talk to anybody and she won’t communicate. I’ll have to get it out of her somehow when I get there. But I know she’s taking this really, really hard and is taking it to heart. She just doesn’t have the bodies to compete and it’s killing her.’’
BY THE NUMBERS
.261 – Field goal percentage for Kelly Faris over the last three games (6-of-23)
3 – Consecutive double-doubles for Maya Moore. It is her first time since she had a career-high four straight from Jan.10-19, 2009
6.7 – Average rebounds for Stefanie Dolson over the last three games