The sixth-ranked Baylor Bears made sure Connecticut, which rose to No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings three weeks ago, knew which team it was that stood atop the podium last April, bulldozing the Huskies in the fourth quarter to win, 74-58, at XL Center in Hartford on Thursday.
The loss ended Connecticut’s 98-game winning streak at home. It falls one shy of the women’s NCAA record of 99, set by UConn in 2012. The overall record was set by the Kentucky men in the 1950s at 129 as the only squad in NCAA history to win more than 100 at home in a row.
Baylor (12-1) was the last team to beat the Huskies (12-1) on their home floor and also downed the program’s record 126-game regular season winning streak a year ago. That game was played in Waco. The result will almost surely result in a fourth No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll so far this regular season and more importantly will likely have an impact on seeding for the NCAA Tournament come March.
The parity in the sport this season has been a weekly conversation. If No. 2 Oregon holds on this weekend in its Arizona trip, it would likely be voted back into the No. 1 spot. The Ducks are the favorites, but Baylor coach Kim Mulkey told the media after the win what has been said the last few weeks.
Cooper leads all scorers with 27
Te’a Cooper, who transferred from South Carolina, scored a game-high 27 points for Baylor with six rebounds and five assists.
“We didn’t have our best game, but we played a good game,” Cooper told ESPN’s Holly Rowe afterward.
Cooper hit four of 11 3-pointers to lead the Bears’ 33.3 percent clip from behind the arc. They took a whopping 21 of their 60 shots from 3-point range and hit seven of them, an eye-opening number for a team that gets the crux of its points from the paint.
NaLyssa Smith had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the only double-double of the game. Lauren Cox, still on her way back from missing time due to a foot injury, scored 16 points with six rebounds. She played the full 40 minutes and made 2 of 4 from deep.
All but three of UConn’s points came from three players, a notable stat for opponents on the Huskies’ depth issues. Christyn Williams had 21 points and nine rebounds. Megan Walker added 18 points with eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. And Crystal Dangerfield chipped in 16, 10 of which came in the third.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who averaged 13.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game heading into Thursday, was absent for UConn. The sophomore forward has been a key asset of late, but made none of her eight shots and had six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block.
Baylor pulls away in fourth quarter
The contest was played tight and fast until the fourth quarter, which Baylor led 55-52 at the front end. Neither team made a basket until Christyn Williams cut the lead to one for UConn at the 6:36 mark.
But it was slim going for the Huskies (12-1) the rest of the way. They scored six total points in the quarter, shooting 2 of 18, even as Baylor All-American Lauren Cox lost her shot down the stretch. In only her fifth game of the season due to a stress fracture in her foot, she scored a season-high but looked gassed toward the end.
Cox hit a jumper at 5:25 to move it to a 3-point lead and Smith made two layups to start the pull-away. She scored 10 consecutive points for the Bears and Cooper hit 7 of 8 free throws to ice it.
Baylor shot 45 percent overall to UConn’s 29.
Williams, Walker do it all for Huskies in first half
Megan Walker and Christyn Williams combined for 28 of UConn’s 34 points in the first half, splitting it evenly with 14 apiece. Williams added eight rebounds to toy with a double-double. They had 15 of UConn’s 18 points in the opening frame to lead, 18-13.
As a team, they shot 50 percent in the first and out-rebounded the Bears, 13-11.
Walker hit a 3-pointer on a pass from Crystal Dangerfield, then secured a steal with the and-1 to tie Baylor, 33-33, as the half came to a close. It ended a 9-0 run that answered one by Baylor, though the Bears held the slim one-point lead at the break, 35-34.
Dangerfield took on more in the third, scoring 10 of her 13 points in the quarter.
Baylor beats game plan, sinks 3-pointers
UConn attempted to neutralize Bayor’s talent and size in the paint by forcing the Bears to take shots behind the arc. Baylor came into the contest taking on average four 3-pointers per game and hit that early in the quarter. Their game-total 21 attempts were five times more than average.
The Bears went 6 of 14 from range, accounting for 41 percent of their shot attempts. They were 16 of 34 from the floor.
Cox was 2-for-3 and Cooper was 3-for-7 to pace the Bears in the first half. They built their largest lead of eight points at 55-47 with 1:55 and held the 55-52 lead going into the fourth quarter.
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