No. 4 Connecticut stops Women's Basketball, 71-58
AUSTIN, Texas -- No. 4 Connecticut hit two 3-pointers and four free throws in the final 1:38 to push a six-point lead to the final margin of 13, and senior guard Ann Strother led three Huskies in double-figure scoring with 15 points, as UConn fought off a late rally by unranked Texas for a 71-58 victory over the Longhorns in women's basketball action Sunday afternoon in front of 7,390 at the Frank Erwin Center.
Texas played its second consecutive game without All-America junior Tiffany Jackson (team-high 14.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg) who was out with a sprained right ankle. In Jackson's absence, senior point guard Nina Norman turned in the game's top performance, netting a career-high 24 points, including 15 in the second half. Norman shot 11-for-17 from the floor and also had five boards.
Texas, which was limited to 32 percent shooting for the game, falls to 12-10 with the setback. The Horns are 8-4 at home this year. Connecticut moves to 22-3 and is 10-1 in its last 11 contests, as the Huskies shot 47.2 percent for the game (25-53) and made seven 3-pointers. Connecticut was the eighth Top 25 opponent for Texas, which sports the nation's fourth-toughest schedule. The Longhorns are 1-7 against ranked teams to date. It was Texas' final non-conference game of the season.
Connecticut led by as many as 18 points in the second half, taking a 58-40 lead on a Kalana Greene layup with 9:05 to go. Texas whittled the lead down to six, 61-55, over the next 7:12 behind a 15-3 run fueled by eight points from Norman. That was the closest the Longhorns would get, however, as the Huskies responded with back-to-back three-pointers from the baseline. The first was by Strother, which was followed by a Texas turnover. After the turnover, UConn guard Mel Thomas hit a three to double the Huskies' lead to 12, 67-55, with 1:01 to go.
Norman countered with a three-pointer jumper from the top of the key to pull UT back to within nine, 67-58, with 53 seconds to go, but Connecticut sealed the win with four free throws down the stretch.
Joining Strother in double-figure scoring for the Huskies was Thomas (14 points), while senior forward Barbara Turner added a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Norman was the lone Longhorn in double figure scoring. Sophomore guard Erneisha Bailey came off the bench to add seven points and six rebounds. Norman and Turner both had four steals in the contest.
The Huskies led at intermission, 35-25, as the Longhorns were hurt by cold shooting and both teams were turnover-prone. Texas made just nine of 32 field goals in the first 20 minutes, shooting 28 percent, while the Huskies connected on 52 percent of their shots (13 of 25). Fourteen of Connecticut's points came inside the paint, as the Huskies held a 14-6 edge in scoring inside the paint. In the first 20 minutes, Connecticut committed 14 turnovers while UT had 12.
The Huskies jumped out to a 22-8 lead in the first 11 minutes, as Texas made just four of its first 20 shots. The Longhorns closed the gap to 10 points at halftime, out-scoring the Huskies 12-5 in the final 4:42. Down by 17 (30-13), Norman and freshman Crystal Boyd both had five points in the final four minutes as the Longhorns pulled to within 35-25 at intermission.
For the game, Texas was four-for-11 from 3-point range, while the Huskies went seven-for-15. Texas was 12-for-18 in free throws, and Connecticut made 14 of 19 free throw attempts. The Longhorns out-rebounded the Huskies, 43-35.
Texas dominated in second-chance points (22 to UConn's eight) and the UT bench out-scored Connecticut's reserves, 23-17. Connecticut finished with 28 points in the paint to Texas' 16. The teams combined for 43 turnovers - 22 by UConn, 21 by Texas.
Texas has ended non-conference play with the Connecticut game. UT returns to Big 12 action for rest of the regular season. The Longhorns host Big 12 leader and No. 9 Oklahoma on Wednesday, Feb. 15 (7 p.m.) in Austin. That game will be broadcast on KVET Radio (1300 AM) in Central Texas, and will not be televised in the Texas area. It will be on Sooner Sports TV in the Norman area of Oklahoma.
We looked for the right things out there. I did not have a problem with our shot selection. At the end, we had some breakdowns and let Connecticut get those back-to-back three's and that was the end. As long as Tiffany (Jackson) is not on the floor, we will have rebound issues. Take a look at the stats. We don't have a lot of individual offensive rebounds, but we did have nine team offensive rebounds. That shows me that we were hustling more on the boards today.
On the play of individual Longhorns: This team is Nina's (Norman) team, especially with the absence of Tiffany. She has played every game she since stepped onto campus. If she looks befuddled out there, then all of our players react to that and play that way. Today before the game, I pulled Nina aside and told her to just take over the game. Just play. Our team looks for her, and she gave us a great effort out there. I was pleased with how E-Bay (Erneisha Bailey) stepped up today. She was aggressive on both ends of the floor, what we have been looking for. Katrina Robinson posted harder today than she has in her career. She didn't finish up her shot, but she got to the line. Crystal Boyd gave us some good minutes as well.
On pulling to within six points late in the game and what she takes from UT's performance: The toughest thing about our team involves the team psyche. There has been a disconnection, but today we didn't see that. I saw a good spark in the second half of our game Wednesday against Texas A&M. You might think I am crazy when I say that because we lost by 20, but I saw something out there in the second half against A&M. I saw a spark. It made me think they were figuring it out. It is a puzzle to why it's taking us so long. But we are putting 14 people in game. We have to have them all play due to our injuries. It might look like "dial a player", but that's not it. There are not a lot of 40-minute players out there for us. We are dependent on so many people to make plays who haven't been on floor before in critical situations. Today was a high-level game. We didn't get anything easy. It is hard to make plays when you are desperate for a bucket, and calling upon people who haven't been there before.
Again, I made an error in over-scheduling. But again, this is not the team I thought we would have when we started the year. There are three potential starters not playing for us right now ... Four if you count Tiffany.
Senior guard Nina Norman
Connecticut Head Coach Geno Auriemma
But, you really hope when you go on the road that your seniors will come and be ready to be prepared to handle what's been thrown at them. There is one thing out of this game that I'm certain about more than anything-- the play of our seniors. Willnett (Crockett), Barbara (Turner) and Ann (Strother) made huge contributions.
Would Mel (Thomas) have made the "3" late in the game if Ann hadn't made one right before her? I really don't know. I am really thrilled with the outcome of this. This is a great place to come. This trip to Austin is a great trip. Texas has a great facility, and is a great school. I hope we can continue this (series). It is good for us and good for them, I hope. Jody (Conradt) and I are all in favor of this series and we talked about it briefly before the game. TV needs games like this to chose from. You know, there are lots of schools we contact, and they don't want to play us.
Keys to the game: I knew coming in that they would win if they rebound well. Texas wins games that they rebound well in. I said we'd have to out-rebound them to win and it almost came down to that. They did a good job on the boards, especially in second-chance points. After the game, I said to my team, I don't know where this road win will take us. But, this team is different than last year. Last year, we had a team which could not win on the road. This year, we've already won big road games at DePaul, Louisville, and now Texas. We have some really good road wins. That sets a good tone for the NCAA Tournament.
What he was thinking when Texas cut the lead to six late in the second half: I've had some teams in the past when we get up 18, then there's a timeout, next we are up 28, next timeout, we then go up 38. It used to happen with our good offensive players. With our team right now, if we go on huge runs and get up by 18, it's tough for us to sustain it. What happens for us is we start having silly turnovers and giving them second and third shots, like today. All of a sudden, it's eight points, six points. Today, when Texas made it's run and it had to do with us making mistakes, but they also made some huge shots. They (Texas) will look at the film and see that. They easily could have gotten blown out today, but they didn't. That says a lot about their character and their kids.
True value of having seniors and their leadership and what Texas, with its seven freshmen, is going through right now: They (Texas) had a group of kids together for a long, long time. That team we met at the 2003 Final Four, for example. Now, it's a double whammy this year-- all those young guys, with expectations high - probably prematurely... If you have three or four upperclassmen ready to leave, the freshman can fill in. But with Texas, it's seven freshmen. They break down. A lot of it is mental. That mental pressure gets to you when you are a young player. It is fortunate in that they have a real experienced point guard. I'd hate to think what Jody's team would be if they didn't have Nina Norman. Erika (Arriaran) will learn that next time she wants to take shots, that it doesn't always go well against a good team and that you have to work really hard every time down the court. She has been in that position all year long, and she will have learned from it.
The play of Texas senior point guard Nina Norman: I told the ESPN people after the game during the interview when they asked me about Renee Montgomery. I said, hey, she's a freshmen, she will be good. I said I hope she is half as good as Nina Norman was tonight. I remember when Nikna was a freshman. She played really well against us in the Final Four in Atlanta. That's what seniors do - she feels a sense of responsibility, and she's the best player out there for Texas. She took the ball and went were she wanted to. That "3" she made at end of half was a momentum "3". Then, she hit a huge "3" from the top of the key near the end of the game. That's what good players do. That's why she's really good. I've always been a big fan of hers.
Connecticut senior forward Barbara Turner
Nina Norman made big shots, some of them unbelievable. She was putting her team on her back and trying to carry them through. But, we had some back-breakers when Ann and Mel (Thomas) hit those big shots.