March 31, 2014
By Marya Fratoni
"There's always one of these in the tournament," said Coach Geno Auriemma in the postgame interviews of after UConn’s win over BYU on Saturday evening. "I hope there's only one." The comment alluded to the Huskies’ first half struggles in which they shot just 35.5 percent from the field and 0-8 from three-point range but managed to reclaim the 30-29 lead at halftime. Luckily, the Huskies were able to pull it together to overcome a Cougars team hungry to replay their spoiler role against the top team in the nation.
The main reason behind BYU’s early success can be attributed to its ability to exploit UConn’s defensive weaknesses. 6-foot-7 Jennifer Hamson used her height advantage for first half points in the paint and Kim Beeston anchored a three-point shooting effort that cranked along at 50.0 percent in the first half. UConn’s shots didn’t fall on the offensive end, which seemed contagious throughout the lineup. The result was UConn’s largest deficit of the season when it trailed BYU with 4:42 left in the first half.
UConn was able to rebound in the second half, led by a double-double effort by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Anaheim Hills, Calif.), who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds on the heels of a triple-double performance in the Second Round game against Saint Joseph’s. In spite of an injury-plagued junior season, the forward has proven to be more than just a menace from behind the arc. In fact, her rebounding efforts Saturday night, in which she tied her career-high with eight offensive boards, demonstrated her efforts to become a more versatile threat on the floor. “I think one of the dangers when you are a great shooter when you are young is you don’t feel the need to do anything else,” remarked head coach Geno Auriemma. “The role she is playing this year, and what we need her to play if we are going to win the next three games, may not at all be what she will do next year. Right now I am enjoying what she is doing now.” Said Mosqueda-Lewis of her conscious effort to crash the offensive boards, “I was just trying to get in there as much as possible, just trying to get us second chance shots because I know we weren’t knocking down the shots we usually did.”
Also turning her game around in the second half was senior Bria Hartley (North Babylon, N.Y.), who began driving to the basket in the second half for all twelve of her points in the latter 20 minutes of the game. “Credit to BYU – they came out and played us tough,” said the senior leader of UConn’s first half struggles. “We did a great job in the second half and we have to keep playing that way.”
Despite a rough night from behind the three-point line (0-6), sophomore standout Breanna Stewart (Syracuse, N.Y.) demonstrated resilience and growth with a strong second half to finish with 16 points, seven rebounds, four rebounds and three steals. Even when Stewart wasn’t making shots, her efforts never lagged. “It just shows how strong we are as a team,” Stewart pointed out. “When you don’t make many shots, that can be really frustrating. We came back with a positive attitude in the second half, knowing that we can score in other ways. If shots aren’t going in, we need to do other things.”
In the scope of the NCAA Tournament, games like this one ultimately prove beneficial for top-ranked teams. “Some of our other games have been blowouts,” commented rookie guard Saniya Chong (Ossining, N.Y.). “Saturday kind of opened our eyes to how it’s going to be for the rest of the season. It also taught us that if our shots aren’t falling, still work hard and always get back on defense.”
Luckily, the Huskies had an off game where they could afford it, but going forward in the tournament the scoreboard may not be as forgiving when it comes to such lapses. A tough BYU squad may have been just the jolt UConn needed going forward to remind them why the pursuit of perfection can be so difficult.
The Huskies will need to go through a tough Texas A&M in order to join the UConn men’s basketball team in the Final Four next weekend. Tip time for Monday night’s contest is set for 9:30pm ET on ESPN.