DALLAS (AP) – SMU looked a lot better to Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma three weeks after the Mustangs were blown out by 61 points in their first trip to the home of the top-ranked Huskies.
If they hadn’t, Auriemma might have seen SMU counterpart Rhonda Rompola in uniform rather than roaming the sidelines.
Breanna Stewart keyed a late first-half run that broke open a close game and finished with 23 points, Bria Hartley scored 25 and Connecticut had to wait until the second half to feel at ease in an 81-48 victory against SMU on Tuesday night.
“Today it seemed like they knew that we looked like, they knew what we were going to do and they were ready and they played,” Auriemma said of the Mustangs, who were down 54-19 at halftime of a 102-41 loss at UConn on Feb. 4. “Maybe Rhonda threatened them. She said she was going to suit up if they had a repeat performance of last time.”
Stewart pinned the slow start on a rather odd combination for Connecticut’s offense: antsy and stagnant. The Huskies eventually figured it out.
“We had to settle ourselves down but at the same time, there were times we weren’t moving at all,” said Stewart, who also had five rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots. “Just running our offense because we know it. We know we can get every shot we want.”
The Huskies (29-0, 16-0 American Athletic) won their 35th straight game, halfway to the second-longest winning streak in school history. The current run is tied for the third longest streak ever at UConn.
UConn’s lead was just 22-17 when the Huskies scored the last 15 points of the first half, a span that covered 4 minutes. Stewart, who scored 16 in the first half, started the decisive run with a 15-foot baseline jumper and had back-to-back layups in transition for a 30-17 lead.
Keena Mays scored 13 points to lead the Mustangs (16-11, 7-9). Akil Simpson was SMU’s other double-digit scorer with 11.
“Well, heck, we cut our deficit in half from the last time,” Rompola said. “I think the crucial part of the game was the last three or four minutes of the first half.”
The Huskies won both games on a Texas swing by an average of 42 points, slightly higher than their average margin this season. They beat Houston 92-41 on Saturday.
UConn actually had its closest game of the season in Texas last month, beating No. 6 Baylor by 11 in Waco and snapping the Lady Bears’ nation-leading 69-game home winning streak.
The Huskies also made the long trip with a short bench with Morgan Tuck out for the season with a knee injury and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis sidelined by mononucleosis.
“We’re a little tired,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think it starts to get to you, the travel and just mentally. But there’s nothing you can do about it. Every other team is going through the same thing.”
The Huskies’ first visit to Moody Coliseum drew the largest crowd for a women’s game in arena history at 4,091, and those fans were at their loudest when Mays hit a 3-pointer for get the Mustangs within 20-15.
SMU had several chances to get the deficit back to five late in the first half but missed seven shots in just three possessions. The Mustangs shot 25 percent for the game, slightly better than the season-low 20 percent from their loss at UConn.
UConn got the lead to 20 at halftime on a 3-pointer by Moriah Jefferson and two free throws from Hartley in the final minute.
Mays ended SMU’s scoring drought with a layup to open the second half. She had a chance for a three-point play but missed the free throw.
Stewart and Hartley answered with consecutive buckets and Hartley later hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 55-26 lead.
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