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No. 3 UConn women find the fight they need to beat UCLA 71-61

Newark, N.J. — The replay would show that Evina Westbrook got fouled hard on a breakaway early in the fourth quarter Saturday, Westbrook reaching down to the floor to steady herself as she went reeling, the officiating crew calling nothing.

That resulted in UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma hurling himself out on to the floor in complaint, backing Westbrook, the Huskies' redshirt senior, and associate coach Chris Dailey getting a workout out by going out to retrieve him. The fans at the Prudential Center for the matchup against UCLA in the Never Forget Tribute Classic, in memory of 9/11, began to chant, "Geno, Geno, Geno!"

It's what was missing for No. 3 UConn in Thursday's miserable loss at Georgia Tech, the Huskies' first game following the loss of sophomore point guard and reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers to injury. Fight.

And it's what UConn found against UCLA, coming from 11 points down in the second quarter to beat the Bruins 71-61, preserving its 1,031-game streak with without back-to-back losses. Fight.

"I think just our last game was a hard one," UConn graduate forward Dorka Juhasz said of the victory. "I think all of us, we got together, we fought through adversity and I think just the whole team, not just me, was great today. I think we played for each other and that helped us get this win.

"This is the team we are. We had to turn that switch on for this game, just play with energy and passion, play for each other. ... This is who we are and we're going to continue doing this."

Westbrook had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for UConn (6-2), including nine points on 4-for-6 shooting in the first quarter to keep the team afloat while the rest of the Huskies settled in.

Juhasz, meanwhile, a previous two-time All-Big Ten selection at Ohio State, finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, entering the game averaging just 2.9 points per game. And the rest of the starting five finished in double figures also, as freshman Caroline Ducharme had 14 in her first career start, Christyn Williams 11 and Olivia Nelson-Ododa 10 points and eight rebounds.

Aside from Bueckers, UConn is also missing sophomore guard Nika Muhl, freshman guard Azzi Fudd and junior forward Aubrey Griffin to injuries, meaning that Auriemma used just seven players against UCLA. The Huskies next meet No. 7 Louisville on Dec. 19 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The game turned following a UConn timeout with 5 minutes, 29 seconds to play in the second quarter, with the Huskies trailing 28-17 at the time. Juhasz hit a jump shot from the left corner to begin an 11-2 run that cut UCLA's lead to 30-28 at halftime.

The Huskies scored the last seven points before halftime on a pair of free throws from Ducharme, a shot by Nelson-Ododa assisted by Westbrook and a Ducharme 3-pointer with 2 seconds left, kicked out to her by Williams.

UConn carried that fire into the third quarter. Down 42-36, the Huskies scored 14 straight points. Juhasz hit five straight, pulling them within 42-41 and Westbrook brought the ball from one of the floor to the other to make it 43-42 in UConn's favor. Aaliyah Edwards followed with a steal and a layup, Westbrook found Juhasz cutting across the middle for a layup and Williams responded with a 3-pointer as the Huskies led 50-42.

UConn put together another run of 11 straight points in the fourth quarter.

The lead became somewhat tenuous as the Huskies struggled to make free throws late, with UCLA getting it to 65-61 with 37.2 seconds left. UConn was 9-for-19 from the line in the fourth quarter, but made 6 of its last 10 to finally seal the win.

The Huskies were coming off Thursday's 57-44 loss at Georgia Tech.

"I told the players every loss tells you something about yourself and about your team and every win tells you something about yourself and about your team," Auriemma said. "That particular loss the other night probably told our players 'you're not good enough right now the way you're playing basketball.'

"It told our team that you're not really playing as a team. You can use any excuse you want. 'Well we don't have half our team.' Well that's not either here nor there. You can still play as a team even though you're missing key components of your team."

Charisma Osborne had 26 points for UCLA (5-3).

• Auriemma contradicted a media report Saturday that said Bueckers, who fractured the tibial plateau in her left leg last Sunday, may miss longer than the 6-8-week timetable that was released by UConn. Auriemma said Bueckers is considering whether to undergo surgery to repair the fracture but that it shouldn't affect that time frame.

"She needed to solicit a couple other opinions and then the next step is either there's going to be surgery or there's not going to be surgery," Auriemma said. "That's gotta happen relatively soon, 'yes' or 'no.' ... I think by the next couple days we're going to have a definitive answer.

"I don't think it changes that much. The original timetable was going to be 6-8 weeks and that won't change whether there's surgery or no surgery."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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