WACO, Texas (AP) — UConn All-America players Katie Lou Samuelson and Naphessa Collier won a national title and went to two other Final Fours before experiencing this. The team’s only seniors are coming off a loss in the regular season for the first time.
The top-ranked Huskies’ 126-game regular-season winning streak that stretched over five seasons ended with a 68-57 loss at No. 8 Baylor on Thursday night.
“It’s different. Clearly it’s nowhere near the emotions as the past two years when we lost in the Final Four,” Samuelson said. “I think it’s more anger this year, feeling like you could have done things to help the team.”
The Huskies had an undefeated national championship when Samuelson and Collier were freshmen in 2015-16. UConn went to the Final Four without a loss each of the past two seasons before two-point overtime losses in consecutive national semifinal games to Mississippi State and Notre Dame, respectively.
UConn (11-1) hadn’t lost a regular-season game in regulation since a 76-70 home loss to Baylor in a Nos. 1 vs. 2 matchup on Feb. 18, 2013 — a span of 163 games. Their only regular-season loss since then was 88-86 in overtime at Stanford on Nov. 14, 2014.
In his 34th season, Auriemma said: “How long did you think you were going to win every game in the regular season, 10 years?”
“Stanford in 2014. Think about that,” he said.
The loss at Baylor was the fifth road game in a six-game stretch for UConn that started with an 89-71 win at then-No. 1 Notre Dame. But the Huskies hadn’t played since a tough win Dec. 22 at then-No. 14 Cal, three days after trailing by double digits in the second half at Oklahoma, before pulling out a 72-63 win.
“I think people sometimes get this impression that UConn, we have this magic dust and our kids are all perfect players and all great students, they all shoot the ball great and every time we shoot it, it goes in and it’s just a matter of how much we’re going to win by,” Auriemma said of his 11-time national champion program. “And it’s taken for granted I think. … You’re allowed to get beat once in a while.”
In their last game before starting American Athletic Conference play Sunday at Houston, the Huskies shot only 29 percent (20 of 68) for their lowest point total this season. It was their first double-digit loss since 72-59 to Notre Dame in the final 2011-12 regular-season game.
“We’ll be in this situation again. You just see it, you can feel it,” Auriemma said. “I said before the season started, this is not going to be a typical UConn comes in and wins by 40 and hey, thanks for coming. It’s not going to be like that.”
Samuelson and Collier both had double-doubles against Baylor, but were a combined 10-of-34 shooting with 11 rebounds each. Collier was 6-of-18 shooting for 16 points while Samuelson, after missing her first six shots, finished 4 of 16 with 12 points.
“Knowing we have a game on Sunday, it’s a situation we’ve never been in before.” Samuelson said. “We’re learning from it, just like we’re going to learn from what we did on the court, how to react in this situation.”
After the Huskies lost at Stanford in the second game of the 2014-15 season, they won 37 in a row for a national championship. The last time UConn had consecutive losses was in 1993 — a span of 937 games going into the Houston game.
“Just getting our minds right and seeing what we did, and we have to be able to learn from it and move on,” Collier said. “We do have more games to play this season, so we have to be able to focus on what the next thing’s going to be.”
Kalani Brown had 20 points and 17 rebounds for the Lady Bears (10-1), whose only loss was 68-63 at then-No. 11 Stanford on Dec. 15. They had played only one game since, a 61-point win on New Year’s Eve against Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
“Connecticut gets everybody’s best shot. They don’t lose much, we don’t lose much,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “When you can do it year after year after year, taking people’s best shots and you have a shot to play each other, it’s good for women’s basketball.”
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