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UConn women’s basketball edges UCLA, 71-61

The Huskies erased a double-digit first half deficit to earn the tough victory.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn women’s basketball staved off its first back-to-back losses since 1993 with an impressive second half effort en route to a 71-61 victory over the UCLA Bruins.

The Huskies trailed for over 20 minutes before busting out with a 14-0 run in the third quarter to take the lead for good. They led by as many as 14 in the fourth quarter but struggled with free throws down the stretch, which allowed UCLA to make it close in the final moments.

Dorka Juhász had the best game of her UConn career with 16 points and 16 rebounds — most of which came in the second half. Evina Westbrook led the way with 17 points along with seven assists and seven rebounds while Christyn Williams recovered from a bad first half and finished with 11 points.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Caroline Ducharme also came up big. The senior had 10 points and eight rebounds while the freshman tied her career-high with 14 points.

Westbrook single-handedly carried UConn in the first quarter, scoring seven of the team’s first eight points. She was the only Husky to make a field goal until six seconds left in the first quarter when Nelson-Ododa found a layup.

While UConn’s defense started out strong, it could only hold up so long without any help on the other end of the court. UCLA took the lead with 4:01 left in the first and didn’t give it up until the third quarter. At one point, the Bruins built their advantage to eight but the Huskies responded with two buckets in the final minute to cut it down to four.

In the second quarter, UConn looked like it might get run out of the building. UCLA scored 11 of the first 15 points in the period and extended the lead to 28-17. The Huskies were lost on offense and needed someone — anyone — to step up alongside Westbrook.

Enter Ducharme. The freshman started 0-for-3 from the field but hit a layup early in the second to get on the board. She briefly went to the bench but returned with 2:46 left in the half and UConn trailing by nine.

Ducharme immediately made an impact with a block on the defensive end and got to the line soon after, where she made two free throws. In the final seconds of the quarter, Ducharme grabbed a defensive rebound and nailed a 3-pointer from the corner just before the buzzer sounded to get the Huskies within two at the break.

After six ugly quarters of basketball without Paige Bueckers, UConn started to figure it out in the third quarter. The Huskies trailed by six at the first media timeout of the period before exploding for a 14-0 stretch to take their first lead since the beginning of the game.

Juhász was a big reason for UConn’s change of fortunes. She finally started to come alive with half the team’s points during the run while also adding four rebounds in the third. Juhász’s emergence became even more important when Nelson-Ododa was forced to the bench with four fouls late in the third quarter.

UCLA briefly stunted UConn’s momentum by scoring the first four points of the final period but once again, Juhász came up with the Huskies’ first basket of the fourth.

With 6:37 to play, Auriemma picked up a technical foul for coming onto the court to argue a clear missed call against Westbrook on a fast break. While the Bruins made the free throw to get within three, UConn answered with an 11-0 run to put the game away.

The Huskies missed five straight free throws late in the fourth quarter but UCLA never got closer than five points.

With the win, UConn improves to 6-2 on the season and keeps its streak of 1,031 games without back-to-back losses alive. The Huskies will be off for the next six days because of finals before returning to action on Saturday, Dec. 19 against Louisville at Mohegan Sun.