UConn is one step closer to living in the real world.
At least in Geno Auriemma's mind.
The Huskies have long been like a mythical creature -- elusive and hard to believe. They've won with ease, created unbelievable records and become legendary in the world of basketball.
After three close games, including two in the past week, things feel different this season. No. 1 UConn defeated No. 14 Cal inside Haas Pavilion 76-66, but the score doesn't tell the whole story -- that the Huskies built a 17-point lead in the second and third quarters before allowing the Bears to nearly pull off a record-breaking comeback.
UConn hasn't lost a regular season game in years, but Saturday was another close call.
"Our margin for error obviously has changed over the years," Auriemma said. "This is one of those years where we have to be prepared to grind it out every night. Some nights we just make a lot of shots and the other team misses a lot of shots, and it turns out to be an easier game than I anticipated. That's our thing this year: We hope for the best and prepare for the worst. In some parts of the game today, we got the worst. I think the more of those situations that we're in, I think the better team we're going to become."
Auriemma has often said his team is living in a fantasy world, but for his second straight game he's said his team is starting to learn what the real world is like. A team as successful as UConn -- a team that knocked off then-No. 1 Notre Dame on the road -- can't fully be back in the real world after a few close games, but they've been given a glimpse of what it's like.
On Saturday, the Huskies were lucky. They escaped a second-straight close game with a win, partially thanks to another big game from senior Katie Lou Samuelson, who recorded her third consecutive double-double.
Samuelson got plenty of help from her teammates, with Napheesa Collier recording 16 points and Crystal Dangerfield finishing with 15. Christyn Williams (13) and Megan Walker (12) also scored in double digits.
Despite being from California, it wasn't Samuelson's homecoming game. With a large group of family and friends sitting directly behind the bench, she played like it was. She recorded 20 points and 11 rebounds.
"It's really great," Samuelson said of playing so well in front of her family, "especially because they had to travel so far to come today. I really appreciated that because this is one of their only chances to get to see me in person, so I'm just happy that they're here and that I get to see them for a little bit."
With two tough games in the past week -- the other being against Oklahoma on Wednesday -- the Huskies have been challenged in ways they haven't always been used to. Collier agreed with Auriemma's belief that this will make them a better team moving forward.
"I thought we really learned how to stay strong and push through when things aren't going our way," Collier said. "We're not in this situation very often where it's a close game, especially at the end, so being able to keep our composure and staying in control and not freaking out when the score gets close are things we can take away [from this week]." ___
This article is written by Kelli Stacy from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.