The two college basketball heavyweights that squared off in front of a packed Gampel Pavilion brought a little bit of everything to Thursday night’s game. From Tony Adame at WacoTrib.
On one side, there was No. 2 Baylor, a team with a preseason All-American and all the experience in the world back from a team that went to the Elite Eight.
On the other side, there was No. 3 UConn, a team that lost three WNBA Draft picks from last season and brought enough mystery into the game about what it actually had on its roster to have longtime coach Geno Auriemma vacillating between hope and despair almost every day this season.
And after a 72-61 win by UConn in front of 9,049 fans, there were answers and questions aplenty on both sides.
Even though the Connecticut Huskies (2-0) lost the "Big Three" from last year's 38-0 national championship team, they proved Thursday night that they're not going away. Story by Jerry Hill of the Baylor Bear Foundation from Baylor Bears dot com which also has a pretty nifty slide show.
With their 76-game winning streak seemingly in jeopardy, the four-time defending national champions went on a 16-2 run down the stretch and pulled away for a 72-61 victory over the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears (2-1) Thursday night at Gampel Pavilion before a crowd of 9,049.
The more-seasoned Lady Bears, who returned four starters from last year's 36-2 Elite Eight team, struggled in that critical six-minute stretch of the fourth quarter. After tying it at 54-54 on back-to-back layups by Alexis Jones and Kalani Brown, they went nearly three minutes without scoring, turning it over five times and missing seven of their next eight shots.
"Toughness, just flat-out toughness, that's all it was" said Mulkey, who is 2-4 against UConn, all in the last seven years. "I just thought they played tough and didn't get rattled. Not that we got rattled, but we didn't handle it when they went to the 3-2 (zone defense). That was surprising, because it wasn't like we hadn't worked on it in a while. But they were just a little tougher, got some hustle plays."
Jones hit a layup and 3-pointer in the last 47 seconds, finishing with a game- and season-high 23 points.
Jones and fellow guards Kristy Wallace and Alexis Prince combined to knock down eight treys and score 43 of the Lady Bears' 61 points. But, the post play that was so dominant in wins over Houston Baptist and UCLA, was eerily quiet.
Brown, a 6-7 sophomore post that had scored 53 points in the previous two games, picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and finished with just nine points and five boards in 19 minutes off the bench. Beatrice Mompremier was the most productive with six points, 10 rebounds and two blocks before fouling out with 2:37 left.
"Kalani getting in foul trouble early took us out of our rotation and things we wanted to do," Mulkey said. "We've got to go back and look at the film and figure out why we got so few post touches. . . . Was it foul trouble? Was it you demanding the ball? Was it the guards not being able to deliver passes? Was it Connecticut's defense? So, we'll go back and look at film and get better."
After Baylor scored on its first two possessions, UConn answered with an 8-0 run and was up 19-14 going into the second quarter.
The Huskies stretched that to a nine-point lead, 23-14, in the first 39 seconds of the second period. But, in a game of runs, the Lady Bears scored 12 of the next 14 points and went back on top, 26-25, when Wallace nailed a 3-pointer from the corner.
Wallace buried another trey for Baylor's only points in the last four minutes of the half as the Lady Bears trailed by three at the break, 32-29.
Going with a bigger lineup to start the second half, Baylor went inside to the 6-7 Brown and 6-4 Mompremier for layups on the first two series of the third quarter and took a 36-32 lead on a Jones 3-pointer.
Prince gave the Lady Bears their last lead, 40-38, on a short baseline jumper at the 6:10 mark. UConn answered with a 14-2 run over the next four minutes.
Baylor whittled it down to a five-point deficit, 54-49, on a clutch 3-pointer by Jones at the end of the third quarter. And then, with the Huskies going scoreless for the first three minutes of the fourth, the Lady Bears tied it at 54-54 on a Brown layup with 7:27 showing on the clock.
In those closing seven minutes, though, UConn showed why it's still the premier program in the country.
Baylor dominated the rebounding battle, 39-29, but scored just 15 points off its 17 offensive boards and was outscored on points in the paint, 26-22, despite a significant size advantage on a UConn team that starts only one player taller than 6-1.
Don't be surprised if these two teams reunite for the Final Four in Dallas.
"My take on it was play as tough a non-conference schedule and go on the road as much as you can," said Mulkey, whose team played a pair of top-10 opponents in a four-day stretch and could play two more at next week's Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida.
The Lady Bears return home to host Mississippi Valley State at 2 p.m. Sunday and Southeastern Louisiana at 7 p.m.