For 20 minutes, it wasn't pretty. In fact, it was downright awful. Maybe it was playing three games in three days, or that the UConn women's basketball team rotates just six players most nights. Or maybe they just came out flat.
Whatever, coach Geno Auriemma wasn't happy as he headed to the locker room at halftime lucky to have his Huskies leading Notre Dame 32-31 in the Big East Tournament finals.
"I just think we're playing lousy," Auriemma told ESPN at the break. "I don't know that I could point to one thing that we did well in the first 20 minutes. … That's as bad a 20 minutes as we have played in a long time and I don't have an explanation for it."
And then he stormed off, presumably to fix what had been an uncommon sight for UConn this season: sloppy play, careless turnovers and foul trouble, something the team can't afford with a short bench.
So it wasn't unexpected that, when the second half began, the Huskies team we have grown accustomed to watching took the floor. And by the time it was all said and done, they were led to a 73-64 win by the best player in the nation and, perhaps, the best players in the nation this week: senior Maya Moore and freshman Stefanie Dolson.
Moore ended the night with 22 points, doing what she almost always does: hitting big shots, showing unlimited range and playing relentless defense. And Dolson, who dropped 24 points on Georgetown in the tournament quarterfinals, did it again against the Fighting Irish. The 6-5 center converted 9 of 16 shots from the floor, made all six of her free throw attempts, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked a shot.
Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel won the honor of the Big East's Most Improved Player from last season, but if there was an award for most improved performance from November to March, Dolson would win unanimously. She's been that good. And it hasn't gone unnoticed.
"[Dolson] has come a long way," Auriemma said after the game. "For a young player to be able to perform like this in this environment, playing all 40 minutes … like I said, she's come a long way from the kid who fouled out in 12 minutes against Baylor in the second game of the year. I'm happy for her and I'm proud of her."
Moore agreed. "She's my MVP tonight. Stefanie Dolson is resilient. I think that's the best way to describe her. Just coming into the season, having to get into better shape … and [now] playing the way she has this entire tournament, I'm just so proud of here."
It's hard to imagine where the Huskies would be without Dolson. Luckily, that's not something Auriemma has to worry about. For now, UConn are Big East Tourney champs for the 17th time, and head into the NCAAs with a No. 1 seed and a 20-game winning streak. Not too shabby for a team that had "as bad a 20 minutes" as you'll see just a couple hours before.