Moore's 30 points and late game heroics by Hartley lifts UConn over Baylor 65-64
The Baylor Lady Bears are a lot like their coach, Kim Mulkey: they are fiery, determined, and fearless.
Unfortunately for them, the Connecticut Huskies are a lot like their coach, Geno Auriemma: they are stubborn, brash, and full of swag.
Last night, UConn survived a fearless Baylor team 65-64, in front of 12,628 at the XL Center and if it was statistically possible it would have been closer.
"When we got up 15, we looked, acted and carried ourselves on the court like we are Connecticut and this is what we do to people every night," Auriemma said. "Then they realized that you didn't happen to do this to anybody, you just happen to be on the team with the guys who have done it and now we are going to have to find out how to do it. I am not sure they thought they could do it."
UConn might not have thought they could do it but they did it.
UConn jumped out to an 8 point lead at the half primarily due to solid defense and forcing Baylor into 17 turnovers. They also limited sophomore Pre-Season Big 12 Player of the Year, Brittney Griner to 6 points in the first half by playing a sagging man and being physical with the lean 6’8" center.
Baylor's offensive load was left to freshman guard Odyssey Sims. And did she ever put on a show. Sims scored 14 points in the first half, including 3- 3point daggers. Sims might be recovering from ACL reconstructive surgery but she was sensational at times, giving the Lady Bears their only perimeter threat.
Baylor came out in the 2nd half loaded for bear, because that is what Kim Mulkey teams do. "Well, we kept guarding when were down and tried to figure out ways to compete — and we did," Mulkey said.
Baylor turned the game around with what gave them the early lead. They went back to Griner, who finished with 19 points, 9 blocks, and 7 rebounds. She posted up, drew fouls and frustrated Connecticut’s young and inexperienced posts. She became an intimidating force in the lane and made UConn think about their shots.
Baylor built their lead to 8 and for the first time in a long time and the Huskies had a gut check. UConn was so out of sorts that even their own coach had questions.
"I didn't think they had it in them because they've never had to do something like this before," Auriemma said. "And I don't think they knew they had it in them either."
Connecticut went to work on the defensive end, rebounded, and outworked and outlasted their competition the last 7 minutes of the game.
"Compliment Connecticut, they were down eight and we couldn't put them away," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
Then Bria Hartley decided it was her time.
Coincidentally, the topic of big shots actually came up after practice on Friday. I point blank asked freshman Bria Hartley if she was comfortable taking a shot with moments left down 3. Without any hesitation Hartley said, "I’ll nail it. No hesitation, I’ll take the shot and hit it."
It didn’t take long for her to come through on her promise.
With 3:56 left in the game she made one of the biggest shots of her life, when she made a 3 from the right side of the floor. She quickly followed it up with a put-back off a Maya Moore miss 1:10 later. And 30 seconds later she nailed a 3 from the top of a key. In a little less than 2 minutes Bria Hartley had transformed from being the ‘invisible kid’ to being the impact player that UConn’s point guards are known for.
Geno Auriemma was highly impressed with his point guard.
"Bria reacted exactly like I thought she would react, it just took a little longer," said Auriemma. "That's why I started her. She's going to make some plays that are going to win the game, I just didn't know when. I sort of lost confidence in it near the end, but I don't know if there's been a bigger shot made in her life than the 3 that she made on the wing to tie the game. That had to be the greatest feeling in the world for her."
It was a series of incredible shots by a player that struggled to even find the right color jersey for 95% of the time, but with the game on the line, she wanted the ball, she wanted the shot.
It was only fitting that the game’s other freshman star, Odyssey Sims (17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals), had the ball in her hands to win the game at the buzzer. Her shot at the buzzer, while perhaps not in time, fell well short.
"To Baylor's credit, they kept with it and made big plays as well,'' Maya Moore said. "But it's definitely sweet, I think, the last five minutes where we responded once again. We came out. We hit first, and they hit us back. And that's the sign of a champion ... can you take it and then keep going? What happens when you get knocked down? And we got back up.''
Moore finished with 30 points, 6 steals, 7 rebounds. Tiffany Hayes was the only other Husky in double figures with 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Hartley added 9 points, 3 assists, 4 rebounds.