By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — Morgan Tuck was surprised by the early call she got to come off the bench during the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s game at Rutgers Saturday.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma didn’t wait that much longer Monday night to get Tuck into the action and the freshman forward again responded. Tuck had 11 points, five rebounds, and two blocked shots in 25 minutes in the third-ranked Huskies’ 76-70 loss to No. 1 Baylor at the XL Center.
“I have to credit my teammates and Coach for getting on me, telling the people coming off the bench that we have to have a spark,” Tuck said. “I tried to have the right mindset. I try just to go out there and do anything and everything to help.”
The 51 minutes she has played against Rutgers and Baylor is the most she’s played in consecutive games this season. Her 11-point effort, following the 15 points she had at Rutgers Saturday, was the first time she’s had back-to-back double-figure games.
“Tuck did great tonight,” UConn sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She saw that Stefanie (Dolson) was the only post player helping us and we needed someone. She took advantage of having the other post player on her. She stepped up a lot.”
Tuck, who has missed four games this year due to a bone bruise in her right knee, is looking more and more like the player Auriemma raved about after her strong preseason.
For the season, the Bolingbrook, Ill., native is averaging 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds.
“It’s a shame her injuries have kept her from playing,” Auriemma said. “But I think she’s the healthiest she’s been all year. She’s a good basketball player. To play like that in this game under those circumstances, I thought she was terrific.”
For Tuck, Monday night’s game reminded her of the game against Baylor here two years ago. She was in the crowd on an unofficial recruiting visit and watched the Huskies rally late for a win. Later that week, she made her oral commitment to UConn.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Tuck said. “To be on the court and hear just deafening noise brings your energy level up. When you think you’re tired, you hear them cheering and it makes you want to go even harder.”
Center of attention
Baylor’s Brittney Griner scored 21 second-half points and her total of 25 got her to the 3,000-plateau. But for the first time in three meetings, Dolson gave the Player of the Year a battle. The Huskies’ junior played all 40 minutes and finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots.
“The first half we did a great job of double-teaming her and making her take tough shots and just limiting how many shots she got,” Dolson said. “In the second half, I think we doubled off the wrong guy and they got too many layups off us. That is something that we are going to have to take from this game and learn from.”
Baylor scored 50 second-half points. UConn was allowing an average of 46.8 points in its first 25 games. But in none of those games did it face Griner. Or as Mosqueda-Lewis said: “We just kind of left Stef out to dry.”
“We trapped Griner every time in the first half,” Auriemma said. “In the second half we stopped trapping for some reason. During one time out I asked. ‘Did someone call a time out on their own and say let’s not trap anymore? Why aren’t we?’ So the next four possessions we still didn’t trap. I just told them I can’t help you now. We’re not mature enough for whatever reason. We should be. We’re not.
“I thought Stefanie played great. She just didn’t get any help from anybody other than Kaleena in the second half. You’re not going to guard Griner for 40 minutes by yourself. In the second half, she got no help. And when we did help we left other guys open because we didn’t rotate. Everything thing we did right in the first half we didn’t do right in the second half.”
Griner played 38 minutes and also had nine rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. She picked up just one foul — a Flagrant 1 with 15:46 left when, after getting the ball stripped away from her, she grabbed Dolson’s right arm and Dolson fell as she tried to beat Griner down the floor.
“We’re both pretty physical,” said Dolson, who didn’t appear upset by the play.
Monday night’s game was part of the annual Play 4Kay initiative that honors the late North Carolina State Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow. All 16,294 fans received pink t-shirts.
UConn is taking part in an online auction and all proceeds will benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. The auction is live now through Feb. 25 at http://uconnhuskies.cstvauctions.com/gallery.cfm.
The items available for auction are autographed ties that Auriemma wore during the Rutgers and Baylor games; game worn uniforms by the UConn starters Mosqueda-Lewis (23), Dolson (31), Caroline Doty (5), Bria Hartley (14), and Kelly Faris (34); a courtside VIP experience for the game here a week from tonight against Pittsburgh; two team autographed posters.
Auriemma was scheduled to travel to South Carolina Tuesday to watch top high school junior A’ja Wilson in action in the second round of the South Carolina Independent School Association Class AAA tournament … It was the first sellout at the XL Center since 2011 … Baylor was 13-for-20 from the foul compared to 4-for-4 for UConn, though there were no complaints from the UConn side about the discrepancy … It was UConn’s first non-league loss in Hartford since Jan. 6, 2007, against Tennessee.