DURHAM – With irrepressible efficiency and defensive aplomb, the No. 3 Connecticut women’s basketball team delivered another disappointing loss to Duke on Monday night– its fifth consecutive over the Blue Devils.
The Huskies (20-2, 8-1 Big East), as they had twice last year, defeated the No. 5 Devils (17-3, 8-0 ACC) by executing basketball fundamentals at the highest level and chipping away for a 61-45 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Devils, playing before a raucous crowd and nationally televised audience, put up a fight, yet it was little they could do as Geno Auriemma’s bunch kept working for rebounds, kept closing out on shooters and kept converting opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Devils got away from what has worked offensively this season as the team’s averaged 76.9 points per game. They finished with just eight assists and failed to move the ball with the fluidity that has marked previous victories.
“I’m very disturbed by that eight assists,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We were too one-on-one oriented and we paid a price for that.”
The Devils, McCallie said, took too many random shots and didn’t get to the free throw line often enough. They rushed, too.
“We just didn’t reverse the basketball,” she said. “You’ve got to penetrate, kick, get the ball to the other side of the floor. I’m not sure I can find a ball reversal in the entire film.”
UConn sophomore guard Bria Hartley, a source of frustration for the Devils throughout, finished with a game-high 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds. The Huskies snapped their opponent’s 34-game homecourt winning streak.
Every time the Devils, who displayed plucky defense, mounted a comeback, the Huskies knocked them back. Early in the second half, the Devils cut UConn’s lead to 34-29 and appeared headed for an improbable victory after falling behind 14 points in the first half.
But machine-like, the Huskies turned things around, overcoming their mistakes – and they made plenty with 21 turnovers – to go on a run.
This time it was a run built on sharp-shooting.
UConn freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis started it with a 3-pointer with 13 minutes, 15 seconds remaining. UConn sophomore guard Bria Hartley followed with a jumper, pump-faking to free herself.
On the Huskies’ next possession, redshirt junior guard Caroline Doty spotted up in the corner for a 3-pointer – one she hit falling out of bounds and with a hand in her face. Junior Kelly Faris drained a jumper, followed by a another 3-pointer from Mosqueda-Lewis.
In all, it was a 14-4 spurt by the Huskies that put them far enough ahead to hold off the Devils.
In addition, the Huskies, who shot 45.1 percent from the field, converting 7 of 18 3-point attempts, held the Devils without a field goal for nearly 12 minutes during the second half. Plus, they received a 12 rebound, five block performance from freshman reserve Kiah Stokes.
“This was a great defensive game for us tonight,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We think we’re the best defensive team in the country and the kids buy into that. The effort was unbelievable.”
Duke has not defeated UConn since a 63-61 overtime victory in the NCAA Tournament on March 28, 2006.
In previous games, the Huskies have thumped the Devils, including a 75-40 dismantling in last season’s NCAA Tournament.
Duke’s younger players closed the gap on Monday with a hustling style of defensive basketball, though McCallie said they were immature offensively.
Three Duke players finished in double figures, including sophomore point guard Chelsea Gray (13 points, six assists and six steals), sophomore forward Richa Jackson (11) and freshman Elizabeth Williams (10).
Sophomore Haley Peters, who fouled out, finished with nine points and nine rebounds. She said the team played well in spurts.
“You need to play a team like that for 40 minutes,” Peters said.
Robinson: 919-829-4781Photo: Duke center Allison Vernerey (43) attempts a first-half shot over Connecticut center Kiah Stokes (41). Staff photo by Chuck Liddy - firstname.lastname@example.org