STORRS, Conn. (AP) – Geno Auriemma expected his young team to go through growing pains early in the season as they adjusted to life without the Huskies’ Big Three.
So far they’ve grown up pretty quickly.
Freshman Crystal Dangerfield scored 19 points, Katie Lou Samuelson added 16 and No. 3 UConn extended its winning streak to 77 games with a 72-61 victory over second-ranked Baylor on Thursday night.
“I think we grew up a lot,” Auriemma said . “Came of age so to speak. That doesn’t mean we’re older enough to not grow some more.”
The streak is the second longest in women’s college basketball history, standing 13 short of the school record set by the Huskies from 2008-10. With stars Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson gone to the WNBA, Auriemma wasn’t sure what to expect from his team early.
So far he’s been impressed after victories over No. 12 Florida State and now Baylor.
“What I saw today was surprising,” the Hall of Fame coach said.
With the game tied at 54 early in the fourth quarter, UConn took over. The Huskies scored 16 of the next 18 points to put the game away. Dangerfield, a diminutive guard, made a spectacular layup with 4:03 left that brought the near sellout crowd to its feet and made it 62-56. Baylor (2-1) couldn’t recover.
“I won’t disappear in big games,” Dangerfield said. “I want to attack. I want to be in those situations. I feel like I have the experience to do it, so I’ll be there.”
Unlike during the 75 games leading into this season where the Huskies (2-0) won every game by double digits and most were decided by halftime, this season’s squad has had to pull out its first two wins in the final quarter.
“We can fight. We can push back. I think we kind of showed the rest of the country, like OK, it’s not going to be as easy as you think it is to beat UConn this year,” Gabby Williams said.
Trailing 40-38 midway through the third quarter, UConn scored 12 of the next 13 points to open up the lead. Kia Nurse got the run started with a jumper and Dangerfield capped it with a 3-pointer.
Baylor wouldn’t go away, going on a 12-2 run to tie the game at 54 early in the fourth quarter. Alexis Jones, who led the Lady Bears with 23 points, keyed the spurt.
UConn contained 6-foot-7 Baylor sophomore Kalani Brown. She had 25 points and 19 rebounds in a win over No. 9 UCLA on Monday. She had just nine points and five rebounds against the Huskies as she was saddled by foul trouble.
“I thought we faced a lot of adversity tonight,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “Calls, momentum. We hung in there even through mistakes. We got to crunch time and we had wasted possessions. Those things have to be fixed and they will.”
Baylor: The Lady Bears were trying to get a measure of revenge, as the Huskies ended their 69-game home winning streak on Jan. 13, 2014. That was the last meeting between the teams until Thursday. … Preseason All-America Nina Davis was scoreless in 24 minutes.
UConn: Two games in and the Huskies have already played two of the top 12 teams in the country. Before the regular season is finished, UConn will have played six of the other top eight teams in the poll. It’s the first time the Huskies have opened the season with two ranked opponents since 1998-99. They played three consecutive ranked teams (Duke, Arkansas and UCLA) that season.
The Huskies have won 50 straight home games. The UConn Huskies unveiled their championship banner from last season before the game.
UConn should move up at least one spot in the poll while Baylor will drop at least one place.
These teams played five times between 2010 and 2014 — the only meetings between the storied programs until Thursday night.
Baylor: After playing back-to-back top 10 teams, the Lady Bears return home to face Mississippi Valley State on Sunday. Baylor has only played top 10 teams in the first three games of the season one other time, in 2012. The Lady Bears split those games, beating Kentucky and losing to Stanford.
UConn: The Huskies travel to LSU to face the Tigers on Sunday.
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