Balance helps UConn bounce back after Texas' fast start

No. 2 UConn rolls past No. 14 Texas (1:07)

Connecticut eases to a 72-54 win over Texas to record the Huskies' 82nd straight win. (1:07)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Through the first five minutes Sunday, 15th-ranked Texas owned No. 2 Connecticut.

Looking for their first win against a ranked opponent in four attempts this season, the scrappy and athletic Longhorns overwhelmed and outplayed the Huskies on both sides of the ball. Texas used its size for early success in the frontcourt, freshman forward Joyner Holmes and senior center Kelsey Lang combining for 10 points.

By the end of the period, Texas held a two-point lead, had grabbed nearly three times as many rebounds as UConn and scored more than twice as many points in the paint. Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn's leading scorer, and junior guard Kia Nurse were both scoreless.

And that's when UConn coach Geno Auriemma delivered what he described as his best 30-second timeout speech -- one he says he saves for special occasions in an attempt to awaken his team from an uncharacteristic start.

"When they came over I said, 'Guys, just take a deep breath, this game is over. They just kicked our [butts] for five minutes and this is going to keep happening for the next 35 minutes, so don't worry about it,'" Auriemma said. "The first five minutes it was all them, it was all Texas."

Auriemma's sermon worked. Nurse scored UConn's first seven points of the second period and teamed with sophomore Napheesha Collier, who finished with a game-high 24 points, to help the Huskies stave off the Longhorns 72-54.

"We took it upon ourselves to fight back," said Nurse, who finished with 15 points three days after a career-high 33 against DePaul. "We had to get every board we could, every loose ball we could. Offensively we had to read what they were giving us [and] execute."

Texas led 17-15 after the opening 10 minutes, outscoring UConn 10-4 in the paint and outrebounding the Huskies 14-5. Samuelson was whistled for two fouls in the opening 5:15 and played just six minutes with no points in the first half.

But balance helped the Huskies beat the Longhorns. They got timely contributions from freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield (six points) and junior forward Gabby Williams (11 points, six assists and four steals). Junior center Natalie Butler might have made the most crucial contribution, however.

Auriemma subbed in Butler to counteract the Longhorns' size advantage inside and clog the lane against Texas' perimeter players, a move Texas coach Karen Aston labeled as a key to the shift of momentum. Butler's presence in the paint allowed for players like Collier and Williams to play defense out on the perimeter. The adjustment rattled the Texas offense, which Aston said became stagnant. Texas finished the game with 25 turnovers, 13 belonging to Holmes and Lang collectively.

"We needed Nat in the lane, we needed a presence in the lane," Auriemma said. "I thought she did a great job, she played some really solid basketball for us."

Samuelson eventually found her rhythm after the break, rallying for 12 points in 19 minutes of second-half play.

"When team's try to take me out I just have to keep moving on the floor," Samuelson said.

The Longhorns -- who dropped to 2-4 on the season, with all four losses suffered against Top 25 opponents -- got an impressive showing from junior guard Brooke McCarty, who scored a team-high 15 points. But Aston said an inability to adjust to UConn's frontcourt switch, as well as not having an answer for Collier, cost Texas the game. UConn is 8-0 all-time in the series.

"I thought they competed better, competed a little longer than we did on possession and were just a little tougher than we were," Aston said. "We've got to fix ourselves in several areas in the next few weeks."

Now the Huskies, who have won 82 consecutive games, turn their focus to Wednesday's game at Notre Dame, arguably the biggest women's college basketball game of the regular season. Auriemma says the team's identity has changed, but when the team needs someone to step up, the Huskies have delivered.

"We don't appear to be the kind of team that just goes in there and imposes their will on the other team like we have been doing the last couple of years," Auriemma said. "It's a little bit frustrating sometimes from a coaching standpoint, but we seem to find someone each game that kind of gets it going for us. Today it was 'Pheesa and Kia."