LOS ANGELES-The UConn women’s basketball team has not been dominant as it has been at the Division I level for no reason. Let’s get all the formalities out of the way: 10 consecutive trips to the Final Four, 18 in all. Eleven times the Huskies have been crowned as national champions, the last title coming in 2016.
Up until that upset defeat they tasted at the hands of Mississippi State in a national championship semifinal game, the Huskies had won 111 straight games. That winning streak included a win against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen this past spring. With their string of victories officially broken, the Huskies has been forced to start a new win streak.
The No. 1 ranked team in women’s basketball, UConn has its mojo going again. The Huskies have a new streak going on. The Bruins are now included on that list of UConn’s defeated foes. UConn came to Pauley Pavilion with anticipation of a tough rematch against the No. 5 Bruins. More than 9,000 people, including retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, showed up for this dynamic contest between two of the top basketball programs in the country.
The Huskies didn’t get much push back in rolling to a 78-60 win on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
“UConn was a better team tonight,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “They’ve obviously have set a standard of excellence. We wanted this to show us the barometer on where we are in our standard of excellence. We’re a really good basketball team, but there nowhere compared to a great basketball team. All of the things that were exposed in our game tonight I believe are completely fixable. We will grow into that. I think there is nothing like a game like this to teach our parts, coaches included. This is not a moral victory. We expected to come in and win. We fell short. We had some errors. We’re going to let this game teach us, and I believe we will be better off for it.”
The biggest difference in this game was how each team shot from the field. As a collective unit, UConn converted 54 percent of its shots from the field. UCLA struggled mightily in this area. The Bruins made just 34 percent (23-67) of their field goal attempts. The third quarter in particular was unkind to the Bruins. UCLA made only 4 of the 15 shots it attempted. That would equate to a 26 percent showing in the quarter.
As a result, UConn outscored UCLA, 22-9, to blow open the game. Midway through the third quarter, the Huskies went on a run that put UCLA on its heels. With 5:11 remaining in the period, the Huskies led by just eight points. By the time UConn had completed its run with 7: 33 in the fourth quarter, UCLA found itself down 70-41, a 29-point differential.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the Final Four atmosphere gave his team a sense of what they’re all about.
“It was crazy, right? It was a great environment,” Auriemma said. “It was a lot of fun for the players, for us as coaches. We knew it was going to be like that. They got a great crowd. We have a tendency to draw great crowds when we go and play in big games. We grew up as a team a little bit today. We really did. Every team has to figure out its own identity. If we had come in here and there were a thousand or two thousand people, and the place was dead, and we play, and it would be just another game, we wouldn’t really know that much. But we came in, and the way the game was played, and the way the environment was, and the team that we played and how good they are, we created a little bit of that identity for ourselves tonight.”
UCLA point guard Jordin Canada, a Street & Smith preseason All-American, put the onus on herself as to why the Bruins weren’t in position to win.
“I was real careless with the ball,” Canada said. “I think I was doing too much. I did not put my teammates in position to be at their best…It’s starts with me.”
UConn boasts two preseason All-Americans in Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier. With Collier (23 points, 7 rebounds) and Williams (11 rebounds) leading the way, UConn established its inside game quickly as it jumped out to a 21-11 first quarter lead. The Bruins played the Huskies nearly even in the second period, losing out on the quarter advantage 19-18.
After whittling down UConn’s lead to eight points at more than the halfway point in the third quarter, the Bruins was not able to withstand the Huskies’ scoring onslaught the rest of the way. When time expired in the third quarter, UConn had ballooned its lead to 62-38.