UNIVERSITY PARK — Just like in its contest at No. 8 Maryland on Friday, No. 1 Connecticut played short-handed when it traveled to Happy Valley for its game with Penn State on Sunday afternoon.
Morgan Tuck sat out, recovering for four-to-six more weeks after having arthroscopic surgery performed on her right knee. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a preseason AP All-American who led the country with 118 3-pointers last season, also watched the game from the bench, still out indefinitely after suffering a nerve contusion and sprained right elbow against No. 3 Stanford on Nov. 11.
But just like when the Huskies took down Maryland by 17 points, playing only seven players did not present much of a problem against the No. 13 Lady Lions. Even with three starters charged with either three or four fouls, the defending national champions stayed effective on defense as the Lions shot poorly in much of their 71-52 loss.
“I don’t think they played any differently than they normally do,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of the Huskie’s defense. “They’re just a good, solid defensive team.”
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The Lions were held to 18-of-60 shooting from the floor in the loss, which snapped a 22-game winning streak at home. They finished the first half shooting 22.6 percent from the field and 0-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Guard Maggie Lucas, averaging 28 points in Penn State’s first two games, represented a good example of the team’s shooting troubles.
Lucas never has had phenomenal statistics against the dominant Huskies. In last season’s matchup, she finished with 5-of-12 shooting, leading the team with 15 points in its 67-52 loss. In the Lady Lions’ Sweet Sixteen loss to the Huskies in March of 2012, she shot 4-for-16, again finishing with 15 points.
The results were about the same Sunday. Lucas, guarded mostly by Bria Hartley, led the Lions with 18 points. She went 6-for-17, leading the team on a small offensive surge in the second half. But heading into halftime, Lucas was only 1-for-7, and 0-for-3 from 3-point range.
“I think your mindset going in is, you can’t let (Lucas) catch the ball,” Hartley said. “... I think you want to do your work early and make sure she doesn’t catch it, and I think my teammates did a good job of helping me get around the screens and stuff like that.”
Of course, the Huskies pestered more than just Lucas on defense. The Lady Lions committed 20 turnovers, compared to 10 assists. The Huskies created 13 steals, led by Hartley’s four.
Lucas attributed some of the slip-ups on offense on the Lady Lions’ own play.
“UConn’s a very smart team, the best team in the nation. But I thought it was more about what we did,” Lucas said. “We didn’t run our offense all the way through. We tried to make things happen that wasn’t there.”
And when guard Moriah Jefferson picked up her fourth foul, along with forward Breanna Stewart and center Stefanie Dolson’s three, the Huskies stayed stingy. After the Lady Lions cut their deficit to nine points, Dolson grabbed several boards to help push the lead back up while Stewart also contributed a few rebounds and a block herself.
Washington said her team showed inexperience at times, partially leading to inefficiencies on offense.
“As I said before, I thought we were a little hesitant,” Washington said, “and when you’re hesitant and you make decisions because you’re hesitant, then they’ll take advantage of it.”
Despite the lopsided final score, one positive Washington brought up was that there is plenty of season remaining for the team to grow, something Lucas also alluded to.
“Today wasn’t at our best,” Lucas said. “But it’s early in the season and you take these experiences, a great experience, and learn from it.”