UCOnn 68, Georgetown 63

Shots finally fall, lift UConn spirits

UConn’s Maya Moore (23 points) soars over Georgetown’s Adria Crawford in the first half. UConn’s Maya Moore (23 points) soars over Georgetown’s Adria Crawford in the first half. (Barbara Johnston/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / March 28, 2011

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PHILADELPHIA — For a UConn team that rarely faces adversity, this was something new. Not only was Georgetown playing physically and making half of its 3-point attempts over the first 20 minutes, but Huskies star Maya Moore was having an abysmal shooting game in what, at times, looked as if it would be her final one in a UConn uniform.

That was when Georgetown, in all its frenetic and chaotic glory, began to come unglued and stopped making the shots that had fallen so often over the first 32 minutes. And, at the same time, UConn finally figured out — yet again — how to take care of Georgetown, how to reassert itself at the top of women’s college basketball.

So much for the upset. It wasn’t going to happen on this afternoon. Moore bounced back and collected 23 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Huskies to a 68-63 win and a spot in the Elite Eight of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Asked if there was a time he thought it wasn’t going to be UConn’s day, coach Geno Auriemma laughed and said, “I would say the first 38 minutes, I thought this was not our day.

“We’re a pretty good shooting team and we weren’t making any shots. Some days that happens. Some days you just can’t get anything to go your way. So, yeah, it’s always in the back of your mind that if we don’t start making some of these open jump shots, we’re not going to win.’’

The game, perhaps, turned on a decision Auriemma cheekily credited to his three assistants. With 13 minutes to go, UConn senior Lorin Dixon — a 5-foot-4-inch dervish — was inserted. Two minutes later, underperforming 6-5 center Stefanie Dolson was taken out. The Huskies were going small, and it worked.

“He had to take Dolson out,’’ Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “[Forward] Tia Magee was absolutely killing her. He had to take her out.’’

Dixon was able to take on more of the ball-handling duties, taking pressure off freshman Bria Hartley. She racked up four assists and four steals in 22 minutes, as Auriemma’s sole sub on a very shallow bench.

“The way Lorin came in and played, it changed the tone of the game,’’ Auriemma said. “Everything changed. It gave us a chance to take Bria away from the ball, too. Thought that was a nice way of saying there was a lousy point guard in there at first, then you got a good one in there. Bria just doesn’t have the experience right now to extend defensively or offensively. So I thought what Lorin did was unbelievably important.’’

It was a rough-and-tumble game over the first 20 minutes, with Georgetown playing aggressive defense and making seven 3-pointers. For the game, the Hoyas limited Dolson to 7 points on 3-of-10 shooting, and had limited Moore to just 4 for 17 until she scored 10 of the Huskies’ final 13 points. But with Georgetown’s Sugar Rodgers — normally responsible for 18.7 points per game — only contributing 11 on 3-for-17 shooting, the Hoyas didn’t have enough.

Georgetown led by 7 with 9:36 to go, as the 5,734 fans at Temple’s Liacouras Center began to believe an upset was possible. The Hoyas couldn’t increase that lead, however. Instead, they turned the ball over, they saw the Huskies make their shots, they just couldn’t get theirs to fall.

Still, if what Magee said Saturday, that no one expected them to win and that no one gave them gave them any respect, was true, Georgetown certainly changed a few minds and turned a few heads yesterday. To them, though, just playing with UConn was not nearly enough.

“Absolutely not,’’ senior Monica McNutt said. “In case you haven’t noticed, our program is on the rise . . . We’re past moral victories. We should be in the Elite Eight.’’

They’re not. UConn is. And so the Huskies tomorrow will face Duke, which beat DePaul yesterday, 70-63, for a chance to go back to yet another Final Four. It’s the same goal the team has every year, the same goal it has had since 1990, as Auriemma said Saturday.

He said something else, too. He said something that might have been a motivational tactic, that might have been honesty, something perhaps a bit strange, coming from the coach of a team that has lost just one game this season.

Or perhaps this is UConn’s reality, in the wake of a close call against a good and plucky Georgetown team.

“I don’t think we scare anybody this year, like we did in the last two years,’’ Auriemma said. “I don’t think anybody’s sitting out there going, ‘Boy, I hope we don’t play Connecticut.’ I think we’re vulnerable, just like a lot of other teams are.

“Last year, maybe the year before, nobody wanted to play us. And rightly so. But this year I don’t think we’re the most dangerous team in the tournament.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at