No. 4 UConn breaks loose late in 1st half, beats UCF 59-52
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — For a second straight game, No. 4 Connecticut had to rely on defense and the leadership of senior guard Crystal Dangerfield.
Megan Walker scored 19 points and Dangerfield sparked a big first-half rally, leading UConn to a 59-52 win over Central Florida on Thursday night in a game in which the Huskies shot 38.5% with 18 turnovers.
“Right now we’re struggling a little offensively,” coach Geno Auriemma said.
It was only the second single-digit win for the Huskies (15-1, 6-0 American Athletic Conference) since joining the AAC for the 2013-14 season. UConn is 126-0 in conference games, including tournaments, since leaving the Big East.
UConn’s win came two nights after a 68-56 win at Memphis in which the Huskies went long stretches without much offense.
“Obviously both (opponents) were very aggressive and we weren’t taking advantage of what they were giving us,” said Dangerfield, who finished with 13 points, five assists and three steals. “Every defense makes mistakes, and they were leaving it open in the middle in the first half and we weren’t attacking it like we would like to.”
Olivia Nelson-Odala had nine points and 12 rebounds for UConn, which was outrebounded 41-36.
Kay Kay Wright, who paced UCF with 18 points, led a second-half rally that got the Golden Knights back in the game after they had trailed by 18.
“Our defense was really good. We just stuck to it and it worked for us in the third and fourth quarter,” Wright said. “It’s a great confidence booster for our team.”
UCF’S zone gave UConn problems early in the game and caused two shot-clock violations late in the first quarter.
“I would just chalk it up to moving the ball side to side and not getting the ball in the middle,” Dangerfield said.
Dangerfield’s two free throws with 7:24 left in the second quarter started a 16-0 run to finish the half, and a 3-pointer by Anna Makurat pushed UConn’s lead to 36-18 midway through the third quarter.
Three free throws by Brittney Smith and Massey Kaba lifted UCF (9-6, 1-2) to a 16-13 lead early in the second quarter, but the Knights did not score again until Diamond Battles converted a turnover into a layup with 8:24 left in the third quarter.
UConn: Auriemma says the Huskies are struggling offensively but should benefit from a break in the schedule, which calls for more home games in the next three weeks.
UCF: The second-half comeback was something of a moral victory for the Knights going into the heart of the conference schedule.
Six straight points early in the fourth quarter had cut UConn’s lead to 44-37 when Makurat nailed a 3-pointer. UCF didn’t get the lead under 10 again until the final minute.
UCF is 0-12 against UConn and had never lost by fewer than 18 points until Thursday night.
“I think so,” coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said when asked about a moral victory. “We really needed to bounce back from the last game we played (an 81-64 loss at Cincinnati). This is how we should be playing every single game so the moral victory is, you know you can play this way.”
UConn: Sunday’s game against Tulsa will be the first of five home games in the Huskies’ next six games.
UCF: Plays conference and I-4 intrastate rival USF on Sunday.