No. 3 UConn women avoid 1st 2-game skid since ’93, top UCLA

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UCLA guard Kayla Owens (1) reacts after being fouled by Connecticut forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa (20) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Newark, N.J., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Coming off a humbling loss without injured star Paige Bueckers, UConn coach Geno Auriemma hoped his team would learn a lesson.

The third-ranked Huskies struggled again minus Bueckers, but managed to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since 1993, holding off UCLA 71-61 Saturday.

On Thursday, in their first game without her, the Huskies fell to unranked Georgia Tech and were held to a season-low 44 points.

“That particular loss the other night probably told a lot of players that you’re not good enough right now with the way you’re playing basketball and told our team that you’re not playing as a team,” Auriemma said.

“And you can use any excuse you want. Well, we don’t half our team. And that’s not either here or there. You can still play as a team even though you’re missing key components of your team. So I think the change was to try and play more as a team,” he said.

Dorka Juhasz shot 5 of 5 for 16 points with 16 rebounds and Evina Westbrook added 17 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for the Huskies (6-2) as all five starters scored in double figures.

UCLA (5-3) trailed 65-51 with 1:20 left before scoring 10 straight points, closing within four with 37 seconds to go. The Huskies pulled away after that.

“I just had that little bit of my confidence,” Juhasz said. “Last game was a hard one. All of us got together, we fought through adversity as a whole team. It’s not just me. Everybody was great today.”

Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year, fractured her knee last Sunday in a win over Notre Dame and the school said she will be out for up to two months. She is averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.5 rebounds and has accounted for 52% of the Huskies’ offense in points or assists this season.

UConn hasn’t lost two straight since March 1993, before Auriemma built the team into a perennial national power.

Charisma Osbornes led UCLA with with 26 points, while Jaelynn Penn had 10 points and seven rebounds. The Bruins fell to 0-7 overall against UConn.

The Huskies had trouble finding their rhythm at the start against UCLA and trailed by as many 11. Caroline Ducharme hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half, capping an 11-2 run that pulled UConn within 30-28.

“There are moments in games when someone has to make a play of some sort. You have to have the kind of players that can make those plays during those moments. Sometimes those moments are early in the game. Sometimes they’re late in the game,” Auriemma said.

“What changed in the second quarter is there were more clean stops by us and being able to get out a little bit in transition and try to get some baskets early in the shot clock, around the lane. That gave us a little bit of momentum,” he said.

A fast-break layup by Westbrook after a steal from Aaliyah Edwards put the Huskies ahead for good at 43-42 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. The basket came during a 14-0 run that made it 50-42, with Juhasz scoring seven of the points.

Up by 14 points, UConn missed five straight foul shots in less than a minute as UCLA closed to 65-61 on Dominique Onu’s layup with 37 seconds left.

“We didn’t come here for moral victories. Those days are past for UCLA basketball,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We came here to compete and win, and obviously we’re disappointed.”

The Huskies also are without freshman Azzi Fudd. The nation’s consensus top recruit last year is out because of a stress injury to her right foot, as is sophomore Nika Mühl (right foot).

“They still have a lot of really, really good players, so I don’t really feel sorry for them about that,” Close quipped.

Ducharme finished with 14 points, and Christyn Williams had 11 points, while Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 10 points and eight rebounds for UConn.

NEVER FORGET

The game was part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, raising money for a 9/11-related charity. It’s the first season women’s teams competed in the event. The UCLA-UConn matchup was nationally televised on ABC, becoming the first regular-season collegiate women’s basketball game to ever air on the network. No. 15 UConn men took on St. Bonaventure in the second game of the doubleheader.

UP NEXT

UCLA: Host Texas Southern on Thursday.

UConn: Host Louisville on Sunday.

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More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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