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Freshmen in college years only

Hartford - The way UConn coach Geno Auriemma figures it, when his team plays at Georgia Tech on Sunday, his five freshmen won't be freshmen anymore.

"Everybody came out of this a little bit different," Auriemma was saying Tuesday night after his top-ranked women's basketball team's 65-64 comeback win over No. 2 Baylor at the XL Center, after the official news conference, still talking in the hallway outside the interview room.

"My thing is whenever you go into a game like this, you're not the same person too much happened and you know you had a hand in it."

UConn (2-0) stretched its NCAA Division I women's record winning streak to 80 games, but it wasn't really as much about that as it was a rocket boost for the Huskies going forward, as they pursue their third straight national championship.

Sure, the Huskies wouldn't have won without All-American Maya Moore's 30 points.

But as Moore pointed out, beaming, there were some other people who "had my back."

Consider the following from previously untested sources:

Eight straight points in 1 minute, 48 seconds from freshman point guard Bria Hartley, including a 3-pointer that put the Huskies ahead to stay with 2:09 remaining. Hartley hadn't made a basket to that juncture and had one point on a free throw.

A combined 15 rebounds from freshmen Stefanie Dolson and Samarie Walker, who came of age battling 6-foot-8 Baylor center Brittney Griner, even though both of them fouled out doing so.

"I mean, I've never even seen a 6-8 female in person," Walker said incredulously. "But once I was out there, I forgot about it and just played her as if we were the same height. I was just thinking the whole time, 'Don't let her score.'"

And then there was redshirt sophomore Heather Buck, who recently started her first career game for the Huskies. She didn't start Tuesday, didn't even take off her warmup shirt until there was 7:24 remaining and Walker and Dolson had both fouled out. Then there was 7:24 of Buck with an elbow in Griner's gut, not letting the Baylor star anywhere near the basket, as UConn came from down eight to win the game with Griner scoring only once against Buck.

"It was definitely a new experience," Hartley said. "Us freshmen, we proved to ourselves that we could really do it. You just look up to the older girls and go out there and play."

"When we were warming up they were loud," Walker said of the 12,628 fans at the XL Center. "And I was like, 'These are just warmups.'"

The fact the game came down to the wire, the closest finish of the winning streak by far, was unlike anything Moore has experienced in the last two years.

Still, she knew her team was just as determined as always.

"This year's a new group. It's a little bit different," Moore said. "But I don't think there was ever a time we stopped playing or stopped trying. This is a new group, but I know they have the skills and the ability.

"It's definitely sweet. The last five minutes where we responded, that's the sign of a champion. We have to build on that."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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