Hartford, Conn. –After a minor hiccup against Baylor a few weeks ago, the Huskies seem to be on the right track again.
Crystal Dangerfield is back to game shape and now is playing with renewed confidence on the hardwood again.
Dangerfield’s trey capped a 17-2 run to open the second half, erasing UConn’s three-point halftime deficit as the No. 23 Lady Vols (15-4) tried to sneak win for first-year coach Kellie Harper.
No. 5 UConn beat the Vols 60-45 Thursday night in front of a loud crowd of 13,659 at the XL Center in Hartford.
“I’m happy we won,” Auriemma said. “They’re a hard team to play against. They’re huge. We had a battle today. That was a battle. It really was. It was really hard.”
UConn (17-1) and Tennessee squared off for the first time since 2007 to renew which was once the toughest rivalry in women’s basketball. UConn leads the all-time series 14-9 and will play next season in Knoxville.
Early the first half Tennessee led 31-28 — that might have reminded some of the intense battles back in the day. UConn knows how to make adjustments on the fly in close games.
The Huskies amped the defensive pressure in the second half and made the Vols turn the ball over 27 times, one shy of their season-high. UT had nine turnovers in the third quarter. With 3:30 remaining in the third quarter, they had eight turnovers in the quarter compared to six field-goal attempts.
“You’re just not going to win big games, beat good teams with 27 turnovers,” Harper said. “It’s just not going to happen. You’re putting yourself in a hole. We hold them to 60 points. That’s pretty good defensively, to be honest with you. Even that, if you take off some of those turnovers, you give yourself a chance.”
Tennessee’s Rennia Davis scored a game-high 16 points, and Jazmine Massengill added 11.
“We just lost our composure, to be honest with you, in that third quarter,” Harper said.
The final total also marked the fewest points that Tennessee has scored against UConn; the previous low was 52 in the 2000 national championship game.
“Aubrey was unbelievable,” Auriemma said. “She really changed the complexion of the game.”
Harper said she feels her team has improved this season, and she wants the Lady Vols to remember the first half as proof that they can play with anyone in the country.
Dangerfield, the Murfreesboro native, paced UConn with 14 points, and Aubrey Griffin chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds.
Some of the best players of the legendary rivalry were in the building, including UConn’s Rebecca Lobo and Sue Bird, and Tennessee’s Tamika Catchings, and Tennessee coach Kellie Harper and UConn assistant Shea Ralph on the sidelines. They all played big roles in some of the classics we saw among 22 games in the series from 1995 to 2007.
“They crashed the boards really hard in that third quarter, and we just lost our composure,” Harper said. “I think some of our youth and inexperience showed. Turnovers have been a concern for this team. we’ve been talking about it, watching it on film, emphasizing it in practice. At some point, it’s going to set in.”
The memory of Pat Summitt was still present at this game; UConn made a $10,000 donation to the Pat Summitt Foundation, and a portion of the game proceeds goes to the foundation as well.
When asked if looking at the other sideline and not seeing Summitt felt “sad,” Auriemma had to pause for a minute. He said he didn’t feel that much during the game, because he had focused on it beforehand.