After dominating early, UConn narrowly withstood a frantic comeback by DePaul.
Megan Walker had 22 points and 13 rebounds, Crystal Dangerfield also scored 22 and the No. 2 Huskies held off the No. 16 Blue Demons 84-74 on Monday night.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 19 points for the Huskies (9-0), who controlled the first half and won their 17th straight over the Blue Demons (10-2), whose seven-game winning streak ended. Connecticut led 55-29 at the half before DePaul started connecting, stormed back and eventually narrowed the Huskies’ lead to four points in the fourth quarter.
“We knew coming out in the second half that it was impossible to re-create that first half,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That wasn’t going to happen. When you have such a good shooting team like they do, you’re not going to have a game when they don’t make any.”
Chante Stonewall led DePaul with 21 points. Sonya Morris had 20 points, Dee Bekelja has 12 and Lexi Held added 11 for the Blue Demons, whose other loss was to No. 4 Oregon State on Nov. 14.
DePaul hit only one of its first nine shots and that was all bigger, quicker UConn needed to get on an early roll. Through the first 20 minutes, Connecticut outshot DePaul 61.1% to 34.3% and outrebounded the Blue Demons 29-9.
“Why were we down 26?” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “If you shoot quickly and don’t make shots, and you also don’t defend and you don’t rebound, that’s a recipe for disaster. That recipe for disaster hit us right between the eyes in the first half.”
It all changed in a hurry.
After going 12 for 35 from the floor and hitting just two of 13 3-pointers in the first half, DePaul picked up the tempo and connected on 17 of 40 on field goals and nine of 19 attempts from beyond the arc in the second.
“The DePaul kids, they’re not going to roll over and go, ‘OK, why don’t we just lose by 50?’” Auriemma said. “So they started beating us to loose balls, they start getting a couple of things (shots) we didn’t let them have in the first, got a little momentum, made a couple of tough 3s.”
DePaul started the third quarter with an 8-0 spurt and narrowed UConn’s lead to 69-56 as the period ended on Held’s 3-pointer from the left side. The Blue Demons started the fourth with a 10-1 run.
“We knew what we were doing to be successful,” Dangerfield said. “I don’t think we were expecting them to come out and hit their shots early. They hit a couple of big shots and that got them going.”
Held’s 3-pointer with 7:17 left trimmed UConn’s lead to 70-66, but the Huskies regrouped from there.
UConn: The Huskies haven’t lost to DePaul since Dec. 28, 1983, but the rivalry between these teams figures to deepen next season with UConn rejoins DePaul in the Big East. The Blue Demons have won the Big East tournament the last two seasons in and four of the past six.
DePaul: The Blue Demons were humbled in their biggest nonconference match-up after scoring 105 points in each of their previous two games. DePaul came off a 105-76 win over Alabama State on Saturday and a 105-94 win at Notre Dame last Wednesday. DePaul starts its conference schedule on Dec. 29 against Marquette.
Walker lost her right shoe pulling down a defensive rebound with a few second left in in the first quarter. She joined the play down the court, then put her sneaker back on after the quarter ended.
Auriemma said he and Bruno have a “lifelong friendship that goes beyond basketball” and he looks forward to seeing DePaul in Big East play next season.
“I hope we play each other three times a year,” Auriemma said. “At home, away and in the tournament.”
UConn: Plays Oklahoma on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Showcase in Uncasville, Connecticut.
DePaul: At crosstown rival Loyola-Chicago on Friday.