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No. 1 UConn wins 80th in row, topping No. 2 Baylor

Connecticut players celebrate their 65-64 victory over Baylor on Tuesday night in Hartford, Conn.

Connecticut players celebrate their 65-64 victory over Baylor on Tuesday night in Hartford, Conn. Photo by The Associated Press.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Maya Moore missed, and suddenly Connecticut’s grip on women’s college basketball was in jeopardy.

Baylor had one more shot to topple the No. 1 Huskies and end their record winning streak. But the No. 2 Lady Bears simply ran out of time, their last try a little too short and a little too late.

Coach Geno Auriemma and UConn rallied from a late eight-point deficit and held on for their 80th straight victory, 65-64 Tuesday night — by far the toughest test since the streak started exactly two years ago.

Showing they could win the close ones, too, the Huskies overcame 6-foot-8 Baylor star Brittney Griner and a 56-48 gap with 6:42 to go. They moved within eight victories of matching the 88-game string put together by UCLA’s men’s teams in the 1970s.

“I thought we played great for long stretches. Obviously, Baylor is a great team and they made their run,” Auriemma said. “Then the improbable happened, people other than Maya began scoring.

“They don’t know what it’s like to come back from a run.”

It’s true. The Huskies have spent the last two seasons rolling over every opponent, waiting for a real challenge.

They got one Tuesday night.

Moore scored 30 points, but it was freshman Bria Hartley who saved the Huskies after they wasted a 15-point lead early in the second half.

Moore missed from the corner with 6 seconds left as the shot clock went off.

Having just used its last timeout, Baylor had no choice once Melissa Jones grabbed the rebound. The Bears had to get to the basket.

Odyssey Sims brought the ball up the court but her 30-foot attempt was nowhere close.

“Do you see us crying? Could we have won the game?” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I learned I have a talented basketball team.”

Auriemma covered his head with his hands as he went to meet Mulkey at midcourt.

“I think there’s always something cool when you do something for the first time with a group of people,” Auriemma said. “You know you don’t have all the answers. For the last two years, it’s been let’s do that. Now it’s not going to be like that.”

Tiffany Hayes added 16 points for Connecticut (2-0). Griner scored 19 points and had nine blocks for the Lady Bears (3-1), but was 5-for-13 from the free-throw line — including some key misses down the stretch.

“I don’t really know what happened on my free throws,” Griner said.

Sims added 17 points and Kimetria Hayden had 15.

Ahead 44-29 early in the second half, the Huskies suddenly found themselves in trouble when Griner took over. The Bears rallied using a 27-4 run.

Then, Hartley emerged for the Huskies, who closed the game with a 17-8 burst. Hartley had eight of her nine points during that spurt after doing virtually nothing for the first 37 minutes she took over.

It was the 46th time the top two teams in the Associated Press Top 25 poll have played. The No. 1-ranked team holds a 27-19 lead.

This is the earliest the top teams have played in either men’s or women’s basketball.

During its current run, UConn has faced the No. 2 team four other times and won by nearly 17 points a game.

Griner and Bears nearly changed that.

After going scoreless for nearly 21 minutes, the sophomore phenom keyed Baylor’s huge run over the next 9 minutes, scoring 11 points on an array of post moves.

Sims’ layup tied the game at 48 with 9:15 left. Jordan Madden followed with a 3-pointer that gave the Lady Bears their first lead since early in the first half.

They extended the lead to 56-48, hitting 5-of-6 free throws. That was the biggest second-half deficit UConn had faced late in the game during its vaunted streak.

Moore wouldn’t let the string end there. The senior had an acrobatic three-point play that made it 56-51, Hayes followed with a layup and two free throws and Hartley’s 3-pointer tied it at 58 with 3:57 left.

After a turnaround by Griner, Hartley hit a layup over Griner and followed it up with a 3-pointer to make it 63-60.

“I don’t know there’s been a bigger shot made in her life than the 3 she made from the wing to tie the game,” Auriemma said. “It must have been a great feeling for her.”

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