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Connecticut women extend winning streak to 80 games — barely

Top-ranked Huskies defeat No. 2 Baylor, 65-64, as Maya Moore scores 30 points.

November 16, 2010|By John Altavilla

HARTFORD, Conn. — Perhaps in two years, when she's a senior and set to begin her WNBA career, Brittney Griner can talk to Coach Geno Auriemma about how they worked together to bring the United States gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Griner, Baylor's 6-foot-8 sophomore center, is certainly headed in that direction; Tall, talented, full of potential.

Then again, that's a story for another year. Maybe Bob Costas can tell it.

Tuesday night at the XL Center was about the present and for now when Griner wins, Auriemma loses. And that's not good for Connecticut.

Here's the thing: What Auriemma and his Connecticut women's basketball team had, Griner and the Bears wanted; the nation's No. 1 ranking and the 79-game winning streak it carried into this game between the nation's top two teams.

Well, maybe next time. Connecticut still has Maya Moore. And now it has freshmen Samarie Walker and Bria Hartley.

Moore, the three-time All-American, scored 30 points and Hartley scored eight of her nine in the final five minutes to help the Huskies wipe out an eight-point deficit in the final six minutes 51 seconds to beat the Bears, 65-64, before 12,628.

"I didn't think they had it in them because they've never had to do something like this before," Auriemma said. "And I don't think they knew they had it in them either."

The Huskies' winning streak, the longest in NCAA Division I women's basketball history, is now at 80. Tiffany Hayes added 16 for Connecticut (2-0).

"Do you see us crying?" Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey said. "No."

The Huskies had a 44-29 lead with 16:02 to play and watched it evaporate in a 27-4 Baylor run, spurred by Griner (19 points, nine blocks), who systematically scored and fouled out Walker and Stefanie Dolson in the process.

"I had never seen a 6-8 female person before in my life," said Walker, who is 6-1.

Nor had Hartley, the high school All-American guard, ever seen a night go like this one was going.

"Coach kept telling me to keep shooting," she said. "And if you are a good shooter, you always think your shot is going in."

Still, the Huskies, who had won 78 of their 79 games by double figures, were in a unique spot with a young team.

"There was a time when I began to think, 'Well, we've never been here [in a spot like this] before,' " Moore said. "Can we do it? Well, the answer was beautiful."

The Huskies came back to tie it at 58 on a three-point shot by Hartley. She tied it again at 60 off an offensive rebound, then made another three with 2:09 left to give Connecticut a 63-60 lead.

Things then moved back and forth; the Bears closing within one on Kimetra Hayden's basket with 1:31 to play, the Huskies pushing it back on Moore's jumper 15 seconds later.

And then this passion play entered its final act.

Baylor's Melissa Jones hit a layup with 36 seconds left. Connecticut regained possession, Kelly Faris dribbling around until Hartley finally missed a shot with eight seconds left. The ball went out of bounds to Connecticut. Timeouts were called on both sides. Moore missed a shot with seven seconds left and Baylor finally took possession.

Jones pushed the ball up but the Bears could not get a shot off in time.

"Well, we kept guarding when were down and tried to figure out ways to compete — and we did," Mulkey said.

This rematch of programs that met in last year's Final Four served as a tasty appetizer for the women's season.

Fandom fantasized about how Connecticut's young team, with two inexperienced centers, would try to make Griner uncomfortable.

And they tried a lot, although not much of it had a great impact, aside from the work by Walker and sophomore Heather Buck, who finally entered with seven minutes to play after Walker and Dolson had fouled out.

"I may not have even used her [Buck] had the other two not fouled out," Auriemma said.

Connecticut led 35-27 at the half and opened a 15-point lead before the Bears rallied behind Griner.

She scored eight of Baylor's next 10 points, picking up the third and fourth fouls on Dolson in the process.

Finally, freshman guard Odyssey Sims (17 points) scored with 9:06 to play and it was tied. Moments earlier, Walker had fouled out trying to deal with Griner.

jaltavilla@courant.com

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