UConn Doesn't Have What It Takes In Big Games

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. —

You say you want a defining stat? OK, we'll give you a big, fat, sweaty, disgusting defining stat. UConn turned the ball over 35 times.

"Incredibly unacceptable," Kelly Faris said Monday night at Purcell Pavilion after the No. 3 Huskies had fallen, in triple overtime, for the sixth time in seven meetings to No. 2 Notre Dame.

Now, you want a straight fastball, no numbers? The UConn women of the past few seasons don't have what it takes to finish off the biggest games against the biggest names. There will not be an eighth national championship until they figure out how.

They could have won this game in regulation.

They absolutely should have won it in the first overtime.

They absolutely should have won it in the second overtime.

And they didn't win it once.

"Every opportunity we had to put it away, we let it slip away," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

"We were done in regulation, the first and second overtime," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.

Only the Irish weren't done. Final score: Notre Dame 96, UConn 87 in 3 OT.

"We're the Fighting Irish for a reason," said Skylar Diggins, who led her team with 29 points.

They're also back-to-back Big East regular season champions for a reason. UConn has had the lead with a minute to go in all of the past three meetings with Notre Dame and lost them all. The Huskies had a second half-lead lead in the six games they've lost of the past seven. Those happen for a reason, too.

One of them is Diggins, of course. She thinks she's Kobe Bryant. She thinks she should get every call. She thinks she's going to win every game. But there's another reason here, too. I just don't think they can win the biggest games against the biggest games without Bria Hartley being a dominant guard again.

Asked to explain the 35 turnovers, Auriemma responded, "I don't know. I guess we're not any good."

McGraw gave a more analytical answer.

"I thought it was us attacking the ball and attacking the dribbler," she said. "I thought we did a really good job. Our help side defense was pretty good, but generally I thought when we ran at the ball and threw double teams at them that was most effective."

"How many chances can you have?" Auriemma said. "You're on the road, against a really good team. You might get one chance, might get two chances when it really mattered, but you're not going to get unlimited chances.

Look, there was some hilarious officiating in this game, culminating with the call that fouled out Stephanie Dolson with 32 seconds left in regulation. I'm quite sure UConn fans are steamed at the refs today. Asked if he was satisfied with the call, Auriemma said, "No. Compared to a whole bunch of other stuff that was going on there tonight. We really didn't need her to go down there and screen for anybody, but she thought it was the best thing to. It's unfortunate it happened. There was one when the kid tried to choke [Dolson], and she pulled her arm away. Every little foul in of itself doesn't mean anything, but when they add up to five it means a lot."

UConn had the lead 64-63, Morgan Tuck stole the ball from Natalie Achonwa and Dolson got called for a moving screen 80 feet from the basket. But there are other things to think about, folks. Things like Caroline Doty getting trapped, losing the ball on a possession arrow with 15 seconds left on what could have been the winning possession in regulation.

And then there was the first overtime when Tuck scored five points, dished off an assist and was all set to enjoy a major coming-out party. Except that UConn couldn't make a free throw when it mattered. They missed the front end of one-and-ones three times and finished 1-for-5 at the foul line. A six-point lead with 1:47 left dissolved completely when Kayla McBride bounced in a three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left.

OK, I'll say up front I'm a big believer in fouling with under 10 seconds left and a three-point lead. I also understand why UConn didn't foul. Notre Dame was 0-for-10 on threes to that point.

"I missed my first three so I was a little nervous," McBride said. "They were double-teaming Sky. I had taken the ball out and I saw an opening and took it. I thought they might foul, but they didn't."

Yes, Auriemma thought about fouling.

"I didn't do it. Maybe I should have. I never thought the kid would walk up to the three-point line and we'd watch her shoot it either. It has been that kind of year. I've seen a lot of things I've never seen at Connecticut.

"We were going to make sure Skylar didn't have the ball. We took the ball out of her hands. I was comfortable with anybody else taking it. They didn't shoot the ball well from the three-point line and the team they had out there wasn't a good shooting three-point team. What's so frustrating is only two guys were going to shoot the ball at the end of the game. One we took out with a double team."

But here's something else to chew on. The Huskies still had a play. Doty threw the ball the length of the court into the Notre Dame band. Pulled a Roscoe Smith.

UConn had a five-point lead in the second overtime with 1:52 left, too. A Tuck turnover and Breanna Stwart foul led to two free throws. An Achonwa layup, a Kaila Turner jumper after a Faris turnover and on to a third overtime.

"That [35 turnovers] was the first thing coach said when he came into the locker room," said Faris, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds. "How are we going to win with 35 turnovers?' It's pretty much near impossible to do that. He told us, the guards are going to be pressured and challenged and it starts with the top down. The seniors, we didn't handle the pressure well. … we're not going anywhere with [35 turnovers]."

I point to Hartley. She didn't lose this game, not at all. She fouled out seconds after Dolson did and, on one hand, UConn showed plenty of spunk to carry play during large portions of the first two overtimes. I point to Hartley because before she got hurt, before her confidence got rattled, she could help take over games with her speed, her penetration, her shot. It's not happening now.

Caroline Doty? Let's quit the romance there folks. She's scoreless in the past 110 minutes against Notre Dame and the past 58 against Baylor. After all the injuries, she's just not mobile enough to stay out of trouble. Moriah Jefferson? Maybe in the future. Do you give her ball more now? Maybe. That's a truckload of pressure to put on the freshman in one March. Faris can only do so much. It's not good enough for Hartley to be decent or even good this March. She has to be special.

Either that or Stewart has to become dominant in a hurry.

"The pressure Notre Dame put on our guards — and our big guys, too," Auriemma said. "Without Stefanie down the middle to handle the ball for us, too, we're not as good as we need to be. I think not having Bria [after she fouled out] was one thing, but we just need to take care of the ball better.

"It's frustrating, so frustrating."

And it happened three times over on one night

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