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No. 3 UConn grinds past Baylor, wins 77th straight

The No. 3 UConn Huskies had an early season test with its matchup against No. 2 Baylor, and they passed this test with the help of freshman Crystal Dangerfield

NCAA Womens Basketball: Baylor at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Storrs, CT — Even though this year’s UConn Huskies team looks drastically different than the one that suffered the program’s last loss exactly two years ago to the day Thursday, it’s more of the same for the winningest program in women’s college basketball.

The third-ranked Huskies got a visit from the second-ranked Baylor Bears in their home opener, and were able to do enough down low to hold off the size of the Bears in a back and fourth 72-61 win.

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It was freshman Crystal Dangerfield who really stepped up off the bench, scoring a team-high 19 points, and seemingly always making a play when her team needed it. Her energy and scoring off the bench was huge for the four-time defending champs throughout the game as Baylor clearly had the size advantage down low.

“With Crystal since day one its been a, ‘show me what you have, and show me why you came to Connecticut,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It took a while, and we’re still not there yet. She has a long way to go. She’s as good a (freshman) guard as there is in the country, and where she goes from here I think will be a lot of fun to watch.”

Constantly doubling by the Huskies in the post helped, as did the presence of Natalie Butler. The 6-foot-5 Butler impacted the game on both ends, grabbing offensive rebounds and contesting shots on the defensive end.

Baylor’s interior players were never able to get going, battling foul trouble and the quick hands of the Huskies. The Bear’s Kalani Brown only scored nine points, after scoring 53 points in her team’s first two games prior to this one.

“I think Kalani (Brown) getting in foul trouble early took us out of our rotation, and didn't allow us to do some things we wanted to do,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “But again, we have to go back, look at the tape and (see) why we got so few post touches.”

A back-and-forth first half featured five lead changes, and a three-point edge for the Huskies at the break. Baylor got back to attacking inside right out of the half, scoring the first seven points to retake the lead. The foul trouble from the first half continued as UConn would fight back and tie the game at 40.

Then it was UConn’s turn to go on a run, sparked by Dangerfield’s scoring and playmaking. The Huskies would go up by double digits, only to see Baylor this time battle back, getting as close as three before the third would come to an end.

Baylor tried taking control of the game early in the fourth with a 5-0 in the first three minutes of the final quarter. UConn quickly regathered and got their mojo back in front of their home fans, opening the game up while holding Baylor to only seven points over the last seven minutes of the fourth.

“We’re only in game two, and they've already gone through a lot of experiences that sometimes you don't go through the entire season,” Auriemma said. “In those last six or seven minutes I thought we grew up a lot. We came of age so to speak.

That doesn’t mean we’re old enough that we don't need to grow some more, but I thought relative to Monday night we really earned it. We were good tonight. We were good when we had to be good.”

The Huskies had four players in double figures, including a 10 point, 11 rebound double-double by Napheesa Collier. Alexis Jones led Baylor with 23 points, and joined Kristy Wallace as the only other Bear player to reach double figures.

The win extends the Huskies winning streak to 77 games, the third longest in history and second longest in program history. UConn has also now won their last 24 home openers.