The wave of emotions that cascaded down on the UConn women’s basketball team Saturday night was unlike any that had been seen since a season-ending loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA national semifinals last April in Indianapolis.
Disappointment. Frustration. Sadness. They were all evident as Stefanie Dolson, Tiffany Hayes and Kiah Stokes answered questions in the aftermath of a stunning 57-56 loss to St. John’s at Gampel Pavilion. They were asked to address what happened as No. 4 UConn lost at home to an unranked team for the first time since 1993 and lost at home at all for the first time since 2007. Streaks of 261 and 99 games, respectively, came to a crashing halt.
Of course, the loss stung. But it did not cost the Huskies a shot at a championship or end their season. And, beginning with Tuesday night’s game at Pittsburgh (7; CPTV), it could provide UConn with a beneficial jolt moving forward.
“Obviously, a loss is never good,’’ Dolson said. “No, it’s not good that it happened at this point in the season. But you can always learn things from a loss. So we’re going to take what we did. It kind of makes us realize… Coach (Geno Auriemma) said to us we’re not as good as we think we are. Every game we have to play like it’s our last and just fight out there, and we didn’t do that (Saturday). So I think we just have to learn from this game that it’s just unacceptable to come out this way and play the way we did. We have big games coming up and then we have the tournament.’’
There was a myriad of problems for the Huskies (24-3, 11-2 Big East) against St. John’s. They committed 18 turnovers, which the Red Storm converted into 20 points. They shot 36.0 percent from the field in the second half, scoring 24 points in their second lowest scoring half of the season (23; 2nd half at Louisville Feb. 7). And they forced a season-low nine turnovers and a scored a season-low eight points off of those turnovers.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (3-of-12 FG) and Bria Hartley (5-of-13) were a combined 8-of-25 from the field. Dolson, UConn’s starting center, got herself into early foul trouble and generated only six points and four rebounds in 20 minutes And St. John’s scored 32 points in the paint, which matched the second-most by an opponent this season (Notre Dame, 36 Jan. 7), and 16 second-chance points, which is the most by an opponent this season.
“It really puts us back in check,’’ Stokes said. “Any team can come beat us. It doesn’t matter. Rankings don’t matter. It’s what we do, and we didn’t come to play. We had too many turnovers, and missed too many layups. I let (Shenneika Smith) shoot a 3 to win the game. We could’ve done so much stuff better. I think losing this game shows us in the future that we have to fix so much stuff. Just little things. But it will make us a much better team.’’
The Huskies did have numerous impressive streaks stopped by the Red Storm. But a streak that is even more remarkable remains intact. They have not lost back-to-back games in a span of 682 games dating back to losses to Providence March 7, 1993 and Louisville March 17, 1993.
If this streak falls too then there might be reason for concern. UConn will enter the Petersen Events Center Tuesday having won 26 straight games against Pittsburgh (8-18, 0-13).
“Coming out against Pitt on Tuesday I think is going to be another test for us whether we can bounce back from this loss or not,’’ Stokes said. “I think we can. I think that we when go out on Pitt we’ve really got to show them what kind of team we are. We don’t want them to think they can beat us too. Just because St. John’s beat us it doesn’t mean that any team can. We’ve got to really turn it around right now.’’
The Huskies have three games remaining in the regular season, including a showdown with No. 2 Notre Dame at the XL Center Feb. 27 when they can capture at least a share of their sixth straight Big East regular season championship. The conference tournament and NCAA tournament will follow in the coming weeks.
UConn lost a game. But in the grand scheme of things the season still has every bit of a chance to ultimately be as successful as the Huskies hoped it would.
“Losses are part of the game itself,’’ Auriemma said. “Where we go from here… You can’t predict with this team because there’s no way of looking ahead and saying `Well, I know come Tuesday we’re going to do this. Or I know next Saturday at Marquette we’re going to do this.’ We’ve tried to take it one game at a time, one day at a time, one opportunity at a time and it’s worked so far pretty well. Better than I thought it would going into the season.’’