PHILADELPHIA – It was nice while it lasted. And for the Georgetown women’s basketball team, it lasted for a full 35 minutes in an NCAA Tournament Philadelphia Regional semi-final Sunday afternoon. “It” being the Hoyas’ dream of becoming the first team since April of 2008 to oust UConn from post-season play.
But a scintillating spark from seldom-used senior guard Lorin Dixon, coupled with some clutch threes by always-used All-American forward Maya Moore in the final few minutes, erased a seven-point Georgetown lead with nine minutes to play and gave top-seeded Connecticut a well-earned 68-63 victory.
The Huskies take on second-seeded Duke (70-63 winners over DePaul) in the regional final Tuesday night, March 29 (7 p.m., ESPN). The winner goes on to the Final Four in Indianapolis next weekend.
With the men’s team already safely ensconced as one of the four finalists in Houston, a win by the UConn women would be the third time both teams have made it to their respective Final Fours at the same time since 2004. That year, the Huskies made college hoops history by winning both national titles in the same season.
But the Hoyas almost derailed the Connecticut express, which entered the game boasting a remarkable streak of 111-1 – a graphically visual reminder that UConn has, indeed, been the number one team in women’s basketball over that stretch of 112 games .
Georgetown had built a 35-32 lead at the half, thanks in large part to seven three-pointers.
The Hoyas had widened the lead to seven with nine minutes to play at which point Bria Hartley’s three-point attempt wiggled into and out of the rim. Perhaps that was the moment when Georgetown fans began to believe the unbelievable and Connecticut fans began to think the unthinkable.
“I told the team, when we were up by seven that we had to increase the cushion to 10, to 12, against a team like UConn because you know they’re going to come at you with all they have at this point,” said Georgetown head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy.
“Georgetown didn’t ‘lose’ the game as much as I think we ‘won’ the game and I’m really proud of our guys for that,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, adding that he’d been proud of the way he acted with his team in the unaccustomed position of having to overcome a seven-point deficit with only nine minutes to play.
“In my younger days, I would have yelled at the players, reacted impatiently. Now things are more under control,” said the Hall of Fame coach.
Auriemma, inspired by a suggestion from assistant coach Chris Dailey, decided to replace freshman center Stefanie Dolson with the 5-foot-4 Dixon, losing 13 inches in the substitution but gaining three years of experience playing in pressure-packed championship game situations.
“Geno had to take Dolson out. Tia Magee was absolutely killing her,” said Williams-Flournoy.
“Tia was taking it to the basket and shooting the three. So he decided to go smaller by putting Dixon in the game. [Even though] Dixon hasn’t been a big time player for him, she was their spark coming off the bench,” said the Georgetown coach.
Dixon would be the proverbial sparkplug that ignited the talent that had up to that point been kept in check by a tenacious and unrelenting Georgetown defense.
“We just changed our defense up a little bit and the way Dixon came in and played changed the tone of the game, everything changed,” Auriemma said. “It gave us a chance to take Bria away from the ball. Bria doesn’t have the experience right now to extend UConn offensively or defensively. So I thought what Lorin did today was unbelievably important,” he said.
Speeding up the game
With Dixon creating havoc in the Hoya backcourt, the Huskies would pull out all stops to overcome the largest second-half deficit this particular group of young women had ever encountered.
“When I went in, coach was talking about pushing up the defense. We went two-three, where we extended it and that’s always something that he wants – to get them going faster,” said Dixon. “That’s basically what I went in for, just trying to go in there and bring energy to the team. Everyone stepped up.”
The quicker, smaller lineup quickly paid dividends, as Dixon became a troublesome bee buzzing the backcourt of the Hoyas.
“I feel like I can kind of play centerfield there a little bit and try to cause a little more destruction with Lorin at the top and me in the middle,” said Moore, who finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs.
“We got a lot of deflections and we did a great job getting a steal and a layup that really sparked us from that point on throughout the end of the game. When we go small like that, we have to make a conscious effort to rebound and that’s probably the biggest thing when we go small.”
Backs to the wall
When Dixon crashed the boards for one of her two rebounds, she was unceremoniously bounced on her behind by a much taller Georgetown player but she jumped right back up, waving her arms, exhorting the Husky fans to cheer the team’s comeback bid.
One could hear the WHUS radio announcer on press row excitedly screaming into his mike above the din that “Lorin Dixon is fired up!”
And so were the other four UConn players, their experience and talent combining for a 13-0 run and the victory.
“Hard-fought” is an adjective often over-used by sportswriters in describing a particularly grueling win but in this case, it certainly applies to the grittiness displayed by the defending champs with their title on the line and their backs to the wall.
Auriemma admitted there had been a few times during the game when he thought”this is not our day.
“We’re a pretty good shooting team and we weren’t making any shots. Some days that happens, some days you can’t get things 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 aren’t going to win. But, you just keep reminding yourself that we’re a good shooting team and that we’re going to win. All you can do is keep taking the ones that are open, and we did.”
Georgetown, 24-11, was led by senior guard Monica McNutt who had 17 points and forward Tia Magee who had 12 points and 13 boards.
Freshman guard Bria Hartley had 12 points for Connecticut (35-1) and Dolson snagged a dozen rebounds for the Huskies, who now take on Duke Tuesday night, March 29 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The game can also be viewed on espn3.com in real time.
Posted March 27, 2011