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WACO, Texas – Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was as anxious as anyone to see how his top-ranked Huskies would handle a close game.
They responded in another streak-busting performance.
Breanna Stewart made a short baseline jumper with 10½ minutes left, starting a game-ending 16-6 run after No. 7 Baylor had closed within one point, and the Huskies went on to a 66-55 victory Monday night to snap the Lady Bears' national-best 69-game home winning streak.
"There were certain possessions that we had to win those possessions, and we did," Auriemma said. "Even though we were up the whole time, it never seemed liked it was going to get away from them. ... We were timely."
Stewart had 18 points and 11 rebounds in a matchup of the last two national champions. Defending champ UConn (18-0) won its closest game this season, having beaten their first five ranked opponents by an average margin of 22 points, with the closest being 17 points.
"I think it builds our confidence a lot. It was a tough game, and we really had to grind it out at times, and you want to be able to respond well when things aren't going your way, and we did that," said Bria Hartley, who finished with 17 points. "I think that's a step in the right direction for us."
Baylor (14-2) hadn't lost at home since a 70-54 defeat to Texas in its regular-season home finale March 7, 2010. Senior starters Odyssey Sims, the national scoring leader, and Makenzie Robertson, the daughter of coach Kim Mulkey, had never lost a game in the Ferrell Center.
The Huskies have two of the five longest home winning streaks in women's basketball, their record of 99 snapped two years ago and an earlier 69-game streak. They have ended the other three, previously ending Stanford's 82-game streak last season and winning at Tennessee after the Lady Volunteers had been the first team to win 69 straight at home 18 years ago.
Moriah Jefferson had 13 points and Stefanie Dolson 10 for UConn, which has won 24 in a row overall. That matches the sixth-longest winning streak in school history, and is their second 24-game winning streak since their record 90 in a row ended in December 2010.
Sims, who entered the contest with 31.8 points per game, finished with 20 points on only 4-of-25 shooting. She made all 10 of her free throws, none after halftime. She didn't score for the final 10:53 of the game.
"I don't think they're worried about (their first home loss). I just think they're competitors, and you hate losing. It's not about a streak. You'll re-live the game," Mulkey said of the two senior starters. "Odyssey will re-live the game and think, 'Wow, if I would have given us a little bit more, we might have won.' Or Makenzie thinks, if I would have made a couple more free throws. That's what competitors do. But they certainly are not worried about a streak."
Freshman Nina Davis had 11 points and 17 rebounds for Baylor. Robertson had 10 points including three 3-pointers.
It is the fifth season in a row the two national powers have met, this game featuring the two winningest active coaches by percentage and four of the six college players named earlier Monday to the U.S. women's basketball national team pool — Sims and UConn teammates Stewart, Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who were all recognized before the game. Three were preseason AP All-Americans (Sims, Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis)
UConn won the first two meetings, 70-50 in the 2010 Final Four, and by one point at home early the following season. Baylor as the No. 1 team for the last two games, winning in Waco two years ago and at UConn last season.
After trailing 36-27 at halftime, Baylor cut the gap to 45-42 with just under 14½ minutes left when Niya Johnson scored on a layup after a bounce pass from Sims.
Auriemma called timeout, but when play resumed Johnson stole the ball from Stewart before Robertson missed a layup. Jefferson then hit a 3-pointer for the Huskies.
Sims hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 10:54 left, her last points of the game, to get the Lady Bears within 50-49 — though they never got even or went ahead after that.
Jefferson is the only UConn player from Texas (Glenn Heights in the Dallas area). She had a breakaway layup and a 3-pointer for the first five Huskies points of the game. She then had a steal and stumbled but kept her balance long enough to scoop a pass to Hartley for a layup that made it 10-7.