Connecticut fell behind Oklahoma by 12 points in the second half, and Huskies coach Geno Auriemma couldn’t have been happier.
The challenge, he believes, snapped his players back into reality.
Napheesa Collier had 23 points and a career-high 17 rebounds, and the top-ranked Huskies rallied to beat Oklahoma 72-63 on Wednesday night.
“I told them in the locker room they live in a fantasy world,” he said. “This is the way most of the world lives. Tough games, you have to suck it up. You have to make big plays towards the end. You guys just aren’t in that situation enough because you live in a make-believe world.
“Today they lived in the real world, and I was proud of them because they got tested and came out with flying colors.”
Collier, a senior, played all 40 minutes. In the fourth quarter, she scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting and had four rebounds to help the Huskies outscore Oklahoma 24-11.
“You know, Napheesa Collier is the hardest working player in America,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think there’s any player in the country that competes harder on every play than she does. She was like a one-man wrecking crew inside. She didn’t get much help.”
Katie Lou Samuelson added 20 points and 11 rebounds to help the Huskies (10-0) win their 125th consecutive regular-season game and 57th straight nonconference regular-season game.
Taylor Robertson scored 23 points, Shaina Pellington had 16 and Madi Williams added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Oklahoma (3-7).
The Sooners led for 31 minutes, giving coach Sherri Coale hope going forward. Her team played only freshmen and sophomores the entire game.
“I had a blast,” Coale said. “It was one of those where we were all able to stay in the moment. We kept saying in the timeouts, ‘Be where your feet are right here in this possession. Forget the score its 0-0 just win this possession.'”
Collier made a layup with 3:36 remaining to put UConn ahead 63-62. Collier scored again on a backdoor cut, and the Huskies remained in control from there.
Oklahoma led 37-31 at halftime, the Sooners’ first halftime lead in 12 meetings with the Huskies, all losses. Robertson scored 16 points before the break, and Williams added 10. The Sooners held Connecticut to 36 percent shooting in the first half.
“That’s what happens when people play us,” Auriemma said. “This is what we get. I knew it was coming, and I knew it was a difficult matchup for us, and I knew we weren’t going to be ready for it. I can feel it.”
Oklahoma looked ready to take control when Robertson hit a 3-pointer from the corner and was fouled. She made the free throw to give the Sooners a 45-33 lead.
UConn responded with an 8-0 run, including two layups by Williams, to cut it to 45-41.
Even with the way the game turned out, Coale said her team matured.
“We all could feel how much more fun it is for sure, and how much effective it is, when you just play and don’t fret,” she said. “There was no fretting tonight and that’s a big step for these guys. Big step for all of us.”
Connecticut: The Huskies got the win, but they were shaky defensively, especially in the first half. Collier’s effort bailed them out of what was a lackluster performance by Connecticut standards.
Oklahoma: The Sooners showed great potential, but they wore out late and couldn’t keep Connecticut off the boards.
UConn made just 2 of 17 3-pointers. The Huskies entered the night shooting 41 percent from deep on the season.
HE SAID IT
Oklahoma made 6 of 22 3-pointers. Robertson made 6 of 12, and the rest of the team went 0 for 10.
“I mean, they had one kid make a jump shot and they almost beat us,” Auriemma said.