- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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WACO, Texas -- You got the feeling that no matter who would have won, the postgame comments from both coaches would have been about the same. But it was maybe just a little easier for UConn's Geno Auriemma to handle losing this one.
What? Easy for UConn to take defeat? No, not easy just easier. For crying out loud, the Huskies were on the road, in front of a full-throated full house at Baylor's Ferrell Center, and -- lest we forget -- are still just a mere 10 games into the post-Maya Moore era.
There really have been times this season when you can forget that, simply because UConn has played so well. But in a game that meant a great deal to Baylor's confidence as the top-ranked program thus far in 2011-12, the home team prevailed 66-61 over the No. 2 Huskies.
"You're not just playing the current UConn team, you're playing a very proud tradition," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "No matter how good we play, they're not going to go away.
"I don't want to keep using the phrase 'I saw a team grow up'; I think we're grown now. But we still have lots of things to do. It was the first time we've beaten Connecticut; we've played them three times now. I've never coached a team that's done that."
There were 10,627 fans in attendance Sunday, and Auriemma was stunned they gave him a rousing ovation as a welcome in his first visit to Baylor.
"Yeah, it's like being at a Big East road game," Auriemma joked. Of course, that's nothing like he's typically treated by fans of other teams in his conference. "They say people down South are a lot nicer. They proved it. I gotta tell you, it really took me by surprise, the reception that I got when I walked in the gym.
"I didn't know if they just do that to everybody when they think they're going to kick their butt. But it's a great environment to play basketball in."
Baylor lost its previous meetings with UConn at the 2010 Final Four semifinals in San Antonio and near the beginning of last season at the XL Center in Hartford.
It's doubtful any Baylor backer who has ever watched the women's college game thought this would be a runaway by the green and gold.
And it certainly wasn't. Moore is gone, but freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis gave Baylor fans some of the same Moore-like flashbacks that she has given other UConn foes in her very young career.
With Mosqueda-Lewis and sophomore Bria Hartley providing most of the points, and the entire Huskies group playing smart and physical defense, UConn took a 34-28 lead into the break.
For a large chunk of the second half, the Huskies held on to the lead, stretching it to as much as 11 points on a jump shot by Mosqueda-Lewis with 13 minutes, 17 seconds left.
But gradually, Baylor's big two -- center Brittney Griner and point guard Odyssey Sims -- began to assert themselves more and more on both ends of the court.
"She's developed a little bit of an aggressiveness and a few more ways to score, and that's made it really difficult to defend her," Auriemma said of Griner, who finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots. "The only thing you can do is hope that she misses, or hope they don't give her the ball enough times.
"But the key, we said going in, was that Odyssey Sims is going to decide this game, and she did. Brittney is going to get what Brittney gets. That was a typical Brittney game. But some of the plays that Odyssey Sims made were the difference in the game."
Another big play came from senior guard Terran Condrey. Baylor had rallied to take a one-point lead at the 5:30 mark on free throws from Griner. But two free throws from Kelly Faris put UConn back on top with 4:50 left.
At that juncture, the only Baylor player to make a 3-pointer was Simms. But Condrey, debating between trying to lob to Griner and putting up a shot herself, opted for the latter.
Condrey's 3-pointer swished with 4:30 left, giving Baylor a lead that it wouldn't relinquish the rest of the game.
"It means a lot. I think I shot the ball with confidence," Condrey said, although then she kind of contradicted herself. "Actually, when I shot it, I thought it was short. I thought I didn't jump high enough to shoot it. But I'm happy it went in."
Mulkey, sitting next to her in the interview room, hugged Condrey and smiled.
"She's coming off a sprained ankle, too," Mulkey said. "She wanted to get it into Griner, who was relocating in there, trying to get deeper. But then she saw an opportunity where the defender gave her an open look. If it goes in, you pat her on the back. If it doesn't, you go, 'Why didn't you get it to Griner?'"
UConn won the battle behind the arc -- hitting 11-of-29 3-pointers to Baylor's 4-for-8 -- but down the stretch it became harder for the Huskies to score out of their half-court offense. And UConn wasn't able to get to the line much, going just 2-of-3 there.
By contrast, Baylor was 16-of-18 from the stripe, with Griner making 7-of-7 and Sims 6-of-6. Sims finished with 23 points and four steals. Hartley led UConn with 25 points, and Mosqueda-Lewis had 15.
It was just the third time UConn has lost in a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown; the Huskies have now played in 16 such matchups. They are now 3-2 when ranked No. 2 in those games.
Was Sunday night a preview of something we'll see at the Final Four next spring in Denver? No one will be surprised if that's the case. Baylor (11-0) will hold onto its No. 1 ranking for now, and this victory on a special night at Baylor means a lot to the fans here. But there's no reason to evaluate the 9-1 Huskies as any less a threat for another NCAA title than they were coming in. If anything, even with the loss, they might have shown themselves as more dangerous than previously estimated.
"The outcome wasn't as important," Auriemma said. "We did a lot of things. We got more shots [57 to 48], we held our own with rebounding [Baylor had a 31-29 edge], we forced more turnovers [14 to 13].
"The process of the 40 minutes was something we can take away and say, 'I don't think there's going to be a lot of teams that can come in here and be up by 11 and do what we did to them for long stretches of the game.' The only thing we're not leaving here with is a win, which bothers us because we play to win. But in a lot of other ways, we have a pretty good understanding of where we need to be as a team.
"And I'm sure Baylor feels the same way. Both teams come out of it feeling pretty good. I don't see any downside to the way this game was played."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.
17dBonnie D. Ford