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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Now that’s defense: No. 8 Huskies turn in a gem on ‘D’ in 80-48 win over No. 20 Maryland

    UConn guard Paige Bueckers, right, chest-bumps Aaliyah Edwards during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    UConn guard Paige Bueckers (5) shoots over Maryland guard Faith Masonius (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards, left, and Maryland guard Brinae Alexander struggle for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    Maryland guard Bri McDaniel (24) and UConn guard Ashlynn Shade (12) chase the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    UConn coach Geno Auriemma applauds during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Storrs — The defense was brilliant, relentless, genius, impossible, holding Maryland without a field goal for the final 5 minutes, 51 seconds of the first half and blocking nine shots, four by Aubrey Griffin.

    So while the offense for the eighth-ranked UConn women’s basketball team wasn’t quite fluid ... while the Huskies were trying to bounce back from a loss Sunday at NC State in which they gave up 92 points ... while they were missing starting guard Azzi Fudd on Thursday night due to injury ... the defense provided some grace.

    “I think everybody who watched the game last week, we were very disappointed, embarrassed with our defensive effort,” UConn star guard Paige Bueckers said, referencing the previous loss. “... So it was a huge emphasis in practice and just as a collective unit.

    “We never want to show an effort like that again on the defensive end.”

    Bueckers, making her return to a sold-out Gampel Pavilion (10,299) after missing last season due to an ACL injury, finished with 24 points, six steals, five rebounds and a pair of blocked shots as UConn defeated No. 20 Maryland 80-48.

    The Huskies, ranked second in the nation on Sunday and ready to ascend to the No. 1 spot with a victory over NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina, lost that matchup to the unranked Wolfpack 92-81 and vowed to do better.

    Without the sharp-shooting Fudd, who was unavailable due to a knee injury suffered this week in practice, the Huskies relied on their defense early, leading Maryland 14-11 after one quarter.

    The defense soon turned to offense, however, as the Huskies went on a 24-4 run to end the second quarter, turning a five-point deficit into a 42-27 lead by halftime.

    Aaliyah Edwards and freshman KK Arnold added 12 points each for UConn (2-1), freshman Ashlynn Shade had 10 and redshirt senior Aubrey Griffin, who started in place of Fudd, finished with nine points and 13 rebounds to go with the four blocks.

    UConn forced Maryland into 27 turnovers and finished with 16 steals. It was the fewest number of points in a game for Maryland (1-2) since 2012.

    “It was a rough night at the office,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, whose team now has back-to-back losses to South Carolina (114-76) and UConn. “We tried to get the ball to move side to side to relieve some of the pressure ... I just thought they dictated the entire 40 minutes.”

    “Effort, effort, effort,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of the change from Sunday. “It might be the first time in I don’t know how many years that we’ve had that many steals. We used to get a lot of those back in the day. ... I thought our effort was way, way better. Our communication was better. We just approached the game with a different mindset.”

    A year ago, UConn lost at Maryland 85-78 while missing starters Bueckers, Fudd, Nika Muhl and Dorka Juhasz and only seven players available and watched the Terps celebrate.

    This time, UConn trailed in the second quarter when a basket by Maryland’s Faith Masonius gave the Terps a 23-18 lead.

    But that began the decisive run for UConn which sent the fans at Gampel into near-delirium, with Bueckers scoring 11 of her 15 first-half points during that stretch.

    Down 25-22, Ice Brady scored inside for UConn, followed by two free throws by Edwards which gave the Huskies the lead back at 26-25. Shade drove and was fouled, completing a three-point play, and Bueckers did the same seconds later, giving UConn a 32-25 edge to a huge ovation.

    Another basket by Bueckers made it a 12-0 run and, following a pair of free throws by Maryland’s Jakia Brown-Turner, the Huskies continued their domination. Bueckers picked up a loose ball, knocked away from the Terps by Brady, and took it the length of the court for a layup.

    Shade then made a jump shot before Bueckers finished the half with a 3-pointer and a free throw.

    Shyanne Sellers had 16 points for Maryland, which shot 9-for-35 in the first half (25.7%), 15-for-58 overall (25.9%). This is the first season on the Maryland coaching staff for Connecticut Sun center Brionna Jones, who is the Terps’ Director of Player Personnel.

    “We learned a little bit about how we gotta play, what happens when they punch back and what happens when it becomes a little bit back and forth,” Auriemma said. “I just thought we became a better team today.”

    UConn’s next game is Sunday at Minnesota, a homecoming celebration for Bueckers.

    The Huskies’ schedule then features four more ranked teams over the next month, with No. 3 UCLA (Nov. 24), No. 11 Texas (Dec. 3), No. 17 North Carolina (Dec. 10) and No. 19 Louisville (Dec. 16) on tap.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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