By JOHN ALTAVILLA, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
10:29 PM EST, February 18, 2013
Perhaps this game meant nothing. After all, that is what the coaches say. Perhaps it meant a lot. Apparently, that is how the fans felt.
Most likely, truth falls somewhere in between, just like most debates in life.
But for women's basketball, still the scorched earth of the mainstream sports terrain, Monday's Baylor-UConn game at the XL Center provided two hours of drenching rain the game so desperate needs to grow.
And two of its biggest stars, Baylor center Brittney Griner and UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, complied by matching baskets as the game moved closer to the tape.
Griner, the 6 foot 8 force of nature, scored 21 of her 25 points in the second half, to lead No. 1 Baylor to its 76-70 win over UConn. Her final two points, scored on the foul line with 1:05 to play, gave her 3,000 in her career — only the eighth player to reach that mark in the women's game.
Mosqueda-Lewis added a career-high 26 points (11 of 13) and a career-high 15 rebounds in one of the greatest individual performances in program history.
But it wasn't enough for No. 3 UConn (24-2), whose 12-game winning streak ended.
Brooklyn Pope added 18 points for the Lady Bears (25-1). Bria Hartley had 13 points for UConn.
This was the first sellout (16,294) at the XL Center since a game against Louisville in January 2011, known in Huskies' lore as Samarie Walker's last game with the program before her transfer to Kentucky.
The Huskies came in with a good feeling, one fueled by how close it came to defeating Baylor, the defending national champion, on Dec. 18, 2011, in their last meeting.
In Waco, Texas, UConn led by 11 points with 13:17 remaining in the game then lost by five, 66-61, as Griner (25 points, nine blocks) and Odyssey Sims (23 points) took center stage.
What helped make that game stand out, at least in coach Geno Auriemma's mind, was the discrepancy on the free throw line. The Lady Bears were 16 of 18; the Huskies just 2 of 4.
"Until someone beats them in the NCAA Tournament, they are the defending champions. They have everyone back. They should win [the national championship]," Auriemma said before the game. "That's what everyone said about us in 2009-10. I haven't seen anything during the season to convince me they aren't as good, if not better, than last season."
Had Baylor not lost to Stanford in November, a game Sims played just four minutes because of a hamstring injury, the Lady Bears would have come here with a 65-game winning streak, 26 shy of breaking the mark UConn set two season's ago.
This one was a closely contested game throughout, each team looking for advantages to capitalize on. But Baylor played tighter and faster than UConn, making fewer mistakes, so critical in a game like this.
And they had Griner and UConn didn't.
After trailing by as many as 11 in the first half, Baylor took its first lead, 30-29, on a Griner basket 48 seconds into the second half. But the Huskies re-established a 41-34 lead by the time the first media timeout arrived, after Griner was called for a flagrant foul for pulling down Stefanie Dolson.
The Lady Bears made the next move, running off eight straight points to take a 42-41 lead after UConn continued its game-long trend of missing shots and mishandling the ball.
The game then moved back and forth in the last 10 minutes. Baylor took a 57-53 lead with 8:33 to play, Griner playing more of a role on offense after a quiet (2 of 9) first half.
She scored 15 points in the first 14 minutes of the second half to help Baylor gain traction.
Ultimately, it came down to the final two minutes, Baylor holding a 69-65 lead. Mosqueda-Lewis was doing her best to keep up with Griner, scoring two quick hoops to keep UConn in sight
Griner's two free throws gave Baylor a 73-67 lead with 1:05 to play. They also made Griner the eighth player in the game's history to score 3,000 points.
It was clear UConn would have to make adjustments to compensate for Griner and the Huskies didn't get h much help from the bench post players. Breanna Stewart played just four minutes in the first half. Kiah Stokes did not appear until late in the second half. Heather Buck did not play at all.
The inside game that has benefited UConn so much was mostly unavailable because of Griner's size. So the Huskies tried to whip the ball around, setting screens, looking for seams to move inside or the space to shoot.
It started well. The Huskies opened a 12-2 lead with 15:32 to play and then expanded it to 16-5 with 13 minutes to go in the half. Then they grew cold.
Worse yet, UConn lost some of its poise, throwing passes to places with no one to catch them. Its timing seemed off, confused almost, which ultimately led to 11 first-half turnovers.
But that could have been overcome had they shot better from the perimeter. They didn't. The Huskies were 12 of 32 in the first half, just 3 of 12 from three. If not for Mosqueda-Lewis, who was 5 of 6 for 13 points (and 10 rebounds), the Huskies were 7 of 26 from the floor.
And slowly Baylor came back. The Huskies were doing a good job on Griner, keeping two players on her when the ball came her way. Averaging 22 points, she was just 2 of 9 from the field in the first half.
But Baylor did a better job of finding spots in the paint to score and getting others in transition.
Destiny Williams, the team's top offensive rebounder, grabbed eight of the 15 the Lady Bears used to keep possessions alive. And slowly they climbed back.
They rolled off a 7-0 run to make it 16-12. And after Mosqueda-Lewis scored to re-establish a 22-14 lead, Baylor scored 12 of the final 19 points to move within 29-26 at the half.
At the end of the half, UConn associate coach Chris Dailey repeated her recent tradition of asking fans to follow her along in a cheer.
This one seemed appropriate: "Rebound, rebound, rebound."
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