WACO, Texas — With a sense of relief and exhilaration, Odyssey Sims slung the ball high into the air as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Brittney Griner, Sims and top-ranked Baylor had swatted away another challenge to stay on top.
This time, the Lady Bears overcame an 11-point deficit in the final 13 minutes for a 66-61 victory against Connecticut and their second win in a No. 1-vs.-2 game in less than a month.
“We kept our composure,” Griner said. “We got down 11, and we never let it faze us. We got defensive stops, got big rebounds and just executed our offense. We got to the free-throw line and made our free throws.”
Griner scored 12 of her 25 points in a closing 27-11 spurt for the Lady Bears (11-0) when she also made all six of her free throws. The 6-foot-8 All-America pick also finished with nine rebounds and nine blocked shots to become the Big 12 career leader in that category.
Sims, their feisty sophomore point guard, added 23 points.
“We knew what we had to do. We just had to stop them defensively. And on offense, we had to get the ball inside,” Sims said. “We didn’t get B.G. the ball enough. And that’s what our main focus was to get her the ball. We had to work through her on offense so we could open up some other things. So we just had to stop, score, stop, score.”
The Lady Bears have won 29 consecutive home games, including a 94-81 victory against then-No. 2 Notre Dame on Nov. 20. That was a week before their 76-67 win at sixth-ranked Tennessee.
Connecticut (9-1) was in position to get into the No. 1 spot for the first time since Maya Moore finished her Huskies career last season.
The Huskies had Baylor facing its largest deficit of the season after three consecutive 3-pointers — two by their new No. 23, freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis — put them up 50-39.
“For about 35 minutes there, I felt we were good enough to win the game,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There was a 5-minute stretch there, maybe even less than that, where I thought Baylor and their aggressiveness and intensity level kind of took over the momentum.”
Bria Hartley led Connecticut with 25 points, Mosqueda-Lewis had 15 and Tiffany Hayes 10.
Griner added to her block total when she swatted away a shot by Hayes, and hit two free throws a few seconds later. Sims then had a steal and drove for a bank shot to wrap up 10 consecutive points by the Lady Bears to cut it to 50-49 with 9:43 left.
|TOP 25 SCOREBOARD|
|No. 1 Baylor 66, No. 2 Connecticut 61|
|No. 3 Notre Dame 92, No. 8 Kentucky 83|
|No. 16 Penn State 103, Wagner 42|
|No. 11 Rutgers 62, Iona 29|
|NC State 66, No. 20 Vanderbilt 59|
|No. 10 Texas A&M 71, USC 70|
|No. 22 Purdue 62, Auburn 54|
|No. 25 Nebraska 94, Vermont 41|
|• Complete Scoreboard|
It wasn’t until Terran Condrey’s 3-pointer with 4:30 left that the Lady Bears went ahead to stay.
Hartley made five 3-pointers, but had a long attempt blocked by Griner in the closing minute.
“She’s a great player,” Hartley said. “The ability to get into the lane just shows that we’ve got to work a little bit more on defense and work on keeping people in front so they can’t make those plays and make a big of a difference as she did.”
Griner can finally forget about those missed free throws in Baylor’s one-point loss at Connecticut in another 1-2 matchup.
“That’s the first thing I looked at,” Griner said, holding the stat sheet that showed she made all seven free throws this time. “I just knew I had to knock them down, stayed calmed and did everything I needed to do.”
Griner missed eight of 13 free throws, including some costly ones down the stretch, when Baylor lost 65-64 at UConn early last season when the rankings were reversed.
It was the most anticipated home game ever for the Lady Bears, the first time a men’s or women’s game sold out in advance at the Ferrell Center. The record crowd of 10,627 included Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who flashed the pose and got a huge ovation when he was shown on the large four-sided video screen hanging over the court.
Griner made a short hook on the first shot of the game, and when she made another 6 minutes into the game, the Lady Bears had a 14-5 lead. That was the Huskies’ biggest deficit of the season, and they didn’t lead until Mosqueda-Lewis and Hayes hit consecutive 3-pointers to make it 27-26 with 4:40 left in the first half.
Auriemma got a nice ovation when he came on the court about 4 minutes before tipoff in UConn’s first trip to Waco. He responded by returning the applause to the crowd.
“I don’t think there are going to be a lot of teams that come in here and be up 11 and do what we did to them for long stretches of the game,” Auriemma said. “I think in a lot of other ways we leave here with a pretty good understanding of where we need to be as a team.
“I think both teams come out of it feeling pretty good. I don’t see any downside to the way this game was played.”
Even though there are no more regular-season games scheduled between the two powerhouse teams, there is always the chance of another meeting in the NCAA tournament.