The lingering question had been would any team be able to truly test the Huskies, who had defeated first 17 opponents by a nation’s-best 38.2 points per game. We found out tonight that was Baylor was that type of team. And we found that UConn has plenty of toughness and talent to pass such a test.
The Huskies finished the game with a 10-2 run over the final 5:12 in earning a 66-55 win.
“I’m very pleased,’’ UConn senior Bria Hartley said. “I think we definitely needed a game like this to kind of test us of when a lot of things weren’t going our way … I think we responded really well. We got the rebounds when we were supposed to. We made shots when we were supposed to. I’m just proud of my team and how we finished the game.
“I think it builds our confidence a lot. It’s a tough game and we really had to grind it out at times. You want to be able to respond well when things aren’t going your way and we did that. So I think that’s a step in the right direction for us.’’
The Huskies never led by more than 11 points. Their lead was one (50-49) with 10:54 remaining. It was three (56-53) with 5:12 remaining. But they never did fall behind.
Stefanie Dolson began the clinching run by making two free throws with 3:51 left after being fouled on a layup attempt. Moriah Jefferson found Breanna Stewart for a layup with 46 seconds later. Hartley later found Dolson for a layup with 1:49 left to stake the Huskies to a 62-53 lead.
Jefferson and Hartley each made one free throw before Hartley capped the scoring with a layup.
“There were just certain possessions that we had to win those possessions, and we did,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “You don’t win 69 games at home like Baylor has without having a tremendous will to win. That’s what they do. They’re led by someone (Odyssey Sims) who’s a great player who has a tremendous will. And even though we were up the whole game it never seemed like it was going to get away from them. It was going to be whether or not we could make timely plays. That was the key.
“Making any kind of play was hard tonight. But there were a couple plays that stand out. We talked about that during one of the huddles how let’s give them a chance to make a mistakes, let’s give them chance to lose somebody on a screen or get a mismatch inside. And we never gave them a chance a lot of times. We’d just come down, make one or two passes and were content to just shoot something up. That’s all well and good when they’ll all going in. But we were timely.’’
Key players like Dolson, Hartley, Stewart and Jefferson stepped up late for the Huskies. But the contribution of Kiah Stokes cannot be overlooked. She delivered two blocks and an offensive rebound in the final 3:35.
“Kiah Stokes was right on target with everything we needed her to do,’’ Auriemma said.
This had been the type of game the Huskies had been eyeing for some time. They wanted to see how they would react in a tight game, especially on the road against a quality opponent. Ultimately, they found what they were looking for.
“Once our last game finished and we looked forward to Baylor I think that we were all really, really excited just because we knew that they’re a good team,’’ Stewart said. “And to be tested out of conference in January like we were tonight, it really shows how good of a team we are in the end. When we had to make plays we made them.’’
Said Auriemma: “We know a couple things about our team. We won at Maryland. We won at Penn State. We won at Duke. So I know we were capable of winning big games against good teams on the road. But you just have to keep doing it over and over again. If you want to be considered that kind of team you have to keep doing it. Every time there’s a challenge you have to accept it. That’s why I go looking for these kind of challenges. I love these games. We look forward to them. The players look forward to them. Coaches look forward to them. We all do. We thrive in this kind of environment.’’