WACO, Texas — Seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson had lost just twice at UConn before Thursday’s 68-57 upset at No. 8 Baylor. Both of those defeats were in the national semifinals the past two years, overtime heartbreakers followed by an offseason of dwelling on the disappointment.
This time, they won’t have to wait long or travel far to try to remedy the sting of the loss. UConn begins American Athletic Conference play Sunday at Houston, about a 3-hour drive from Waco.
“This is a game where we need to look at ourselves individually and see where we need to get better,” said Collier, who led the Huskies with 16 points but went 6 of 18 from the field, part of their lowest-in-20-seasons 29.4 percent shooting. “If we’re not hitting shots, we have to do everything else perfectly. We have to make sure we’re getting the rebounds, the loose balls, boxing out. The things that our coaches are on us for every day in practice.”
Nobody has had to face the Huskies soon after a loss since November 2014, when Creighton was blasted 96-60 six days after UConn fell 88-86 in overtime to Stanford. That had been the last time before Thursday that the Huskies lost in the regular season. So UConn’s string of 126 consecutive regular-season wins ended, and there’s something else historical on the line when UConn faces Houston: The Huskies haven’t lost back-to-back games since 1993.
They haven’t lost to any American opponent since the league formed in 2013-14, and those victories — fair or not — are largely taken for granted by observers. But UConn has been pushed a few times in league play, and the Huskies themselves don’t just expect to win those games.
They also have two nonconference games left: at No. 3 Louisville on Jan. 31 and at home versus No. 23 South Carolina on Feb. 11. The Cardinals are currently undefeated, but they’ll have some tests before facing the Huskies, especially Jan. 10 when they host No. 2 Notre Dame.
Where will the No. 1 Huskies be ranked in the Associated Press poll next week? We’ll have to see. The No. 2 Irish lost at home to UConn by 18 points on Dec. 2. How did that marquee victory for the Huskies compare to Thursday’s marquee loss?
Baylor’s inside game was more difficult for UConn to deal with, both offensively and defensively, than Notre Dame’s was. Baylor’s Kalani Brown, Lauren Cox and NaLyssa Smith combined for 43 points, 30 rebounds and six blocked shots (they altered several others).
Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepard had 23 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks against the Huskies, but they didn’t inhibit UConn’s interior scoring. The Huskies had 42 points in the paint against the Irish, compared with 10 against Baylor.
UConn freshman guard Christyn Williams attacked Notre Dame from the tip, and finished with 28 points. Against Baylor, she had just eight points, all in the second half. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said a big focus was to not let the Huskies, Williams in particular, score easily in transition.
“I don’t think our transition game was any good. I thought we were too content to just come down and try to run our offense. When you don’t make shots, it exposes a lot of things.”
Coach Geno Auriemma, whose Huskies made 11 of 32 3-point attempts but added just nine 2-point field goals Thursday
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he anticipated Baylor’s size would be difficult for the Huskies to combat.
“We knew that was going to happen. We were OK with that,” he said. “What we weren’t OK with was how hard it was to get the shots we wanted, and when we did, we didn’t make any of them.
“We’re not going to win the game inside the lane against these guys. You’ve got to figure out a different way to beat them. We thought we could, and we didn’t. And our bench is not going to help us points-wise. I don’t think our transition game was any good. I thought we were too content to just come down and try to run our offense. When you don’t make shots, it exposes a lot of things.”
As for Williams, Auriemma said this was the kind of game even very talented freshmen go through.
“She really struggled. There was a different look in her eyes today; you could see it,” Auriemma said. “This was a different environment than the Notre Dame game. It was a lot more difficult today for her to get anything done. And we probably didn’t find her enough.
“Usually when players want shots, they know how to get them. Sometimes when they don’t want shots, they do a lot to make sure they don’t get any. So I think today she learned a lot today about herself. Which is good.”
Auriemma said his team didn’t act overly disappointed after the game, but he thinks that’s the nature of this group, and players today in general.
“I’m sure they were disappointed and upset that we lost; who wouldn’t be?” Auriemma said. “But the world’s different; people don’t react the way people used to. I think you see it on every team all over the place.
“You see it in practice. Something happens; it’s not exactly what you want it to be. There’s no like, ‘Damn! I’ve gotta get this!’ It’s like, ‘Well, I got it half right. I could have got it all wrong. At least I got that going for me, right?’ “
That’s the usual Auriemma sarcasm, which comes out after all the victories, too. No doubt, he wants the mistakes of this loss to sit with his players and motivate them. There’s still the bulk of the season left, and this should be fuel for that.
“It’s nowhere near the emotions as the past two years when we lost in the Final Four,” Samuelson said. “I think more anger this year after the game, feeling like you could have done things to help your team. But knowing that we have a game on Sunday. It’s a situation that we’ve never been in before, and so we’re learning from it.”