HOUSTON - Megan Walker was challenged by the Baylor defense Thursday night and the UConn womenâs basketball teamâs sophomore wing wasnât up to that challenge. Her response Sunday was more of what she and the Huskies were looking for.
Walker had 14 points, seven rebounds, and three steals as the Huskies bounced back from their loss in Waco with an 81-61 American Athletic Conference victory over Houston at the Fertitta Center.
âI felt like I needed to be more aggressive,â Walker said. âIn the loss I felt like I could have done more to help my team. So I wanted to make an improvement from that game to this game and I had that in my head the whole time.â
Baylor defended Walker Thursday night with 6-foot-7 center Kalani Brown and with Walker unable to do much damage on the perimeter, Brown clogged up the lane and the Huskies could get only 10 points in the paint en route to a season-low output of 57 in a loss that ended their NCAA record 55-game road winning streak.
While Houston had no one like Brown, Walker made the Cougars guard her and that opened up opportunities for her and her teammates. The Huskies shot 55.9 percent from the floor against the Cougars compared to 29.4 percent against the Bears.
âYou have to get up more shots and be confident in your shot,â Walker said. âI felt like I hesitated a bit at Baylor when I shouldnât have. So going forward Iâll be more aggressive from the tip so that wonât happen again. Even if I missed one or two, Iâll make that third one.â
Walker was just 6-for-13 from the floor Sunday but all were quality shots and she was not shy about taking them.
âI thought this was one of Meganâs better efforts,â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. âShe was able to get out in transition a little bit and get some work done in the lane. To me, when you work really hard and outrun people and outwork people youâll have some success.
âToday she did that more so than she has the last couple of games.â
In 11 games (she missed two with strep throat in December, Walker is averaging 11.0 points and 5.6 rebounds. She is shooting 47.2 percent from the floor and 38.2 percent from behind the arc.
Tai Dillard could look at the name âUConnâ on the front of the Huskiesâ uniform and feel bitter since it was UConn that ended her college playing career at Texas in the 2003 Final Four. Instead, the Houston assistant coach has nothing but respect for what the Huskies have meant to the sport the past 30 years.
âI do think about the game against them,â Dillard said. âBut the product they put on the floor year after year and the legacy theyâre leaving in womenâs basketball is admirable. You always want to learn from them. We study them a lot because they have raised the bar and created the blueprint for successful basketball.â
Dillard, a San Antonio native, played for Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt at Texas. As a senior, she helped the Longhorns to the Final Four and a semifinal date with UConn at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Her assignment - guard UConn star Diana Taurasi. While Taurasi did get 26 points, little was easy.
âI was on her like glue. I tried my best,â Dillard said.
Texas led by as many as nine in the second half before Taurasi and Willnett Crockett rallied the Huskies to a 71-69 edge. Crockett had a chance to ice it with 8.2 seconds left but missed two free throws. The Longhornsâ Alisha Sare, a seldom-used reserve who had entered the game for the only time seconds before, raced downcourt with the ball. But with Texasâ best 3-point shooter, Jamie Carey, open in the corner, Sare lost possession and UConn held on.
Dillard, who was set to come in if Crockett had made the second free throw, could only watch.
âI donât think about the last play,â Dillard said. âI remember the moments, the game, and the work, camaraderie, and chemistry it took to get there. It was such a great year and it showed.â
Two days later, UConn beat Tennessee for the fourth of its 11 national championships. Texas has not been back to the Final Four since.
Dillard went on to play three years in the WNBA in San Antonio before going into coaching. She is in her fifth season on head coach Ronald Hugheyâs staff.
Senior Napheesa Collier became the eighth UConn player to record 200 blocked shots when she denied a bid by Houstonâs Serithia Hawkins in the lane. Collier added nine rebounds to move into eighth all-time at UConn in that category, passing the Huskiesâ first all-Big East first-team player Peggy Walsh.
âIt means a lot to me because it shows that Iâm getting a number of things done for the team,â Collier said. âWe need people to do those things, rebound, blocked shots, and do more than score. Iâm just trying to be as active as I can and get things done.â
With 1,848 points and 943 rebounds, the St. Charles, Missouri, resident is on pace to become the fifth member of UConnâs 2,000/1,000 club, joining Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Rebecca Lobo, and Breanna Stewart.
Collier, actually, should have been credited with her 200th block Thursday night as she stuffed the Bearsâ Lauren Cox with 2:23 left. The Baylor stat crew missed the boat on it though and credited the rejection to Katie Lou Samuelson.
âWe just joke around about those things, usually,â Samuelson said. âThe blocked shot at Baylor was funny because I donât think I was anywhere near that play. I donât know how I got it.â
Samuelson had 19 points Sunday and is within 36 of becoming the Huskiesâ 10th 2,000-point scorer.
UConn is 102-0 against AAC competition since the league was formed ... The announced crowd Sunday was 3,644. Houston averaged 906 fans for its first five home games ... The Huskies play their first game on campus at Gampel Pavilion since the season opener Nov. 11 when they entertain Cincinnati on Wednesday. âItâs been two months. Itâs crazy how that works,â Samuelson said.
Auriemma on the renovated Fertitta Center: âI remember we came here the first time (in 2014) and thought that thereâs no way the place is the way it is. I sat down on one of the chairs and I thought, âThis hasnât changed since Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler sat on these chairs, maybe Elvin Hayes.â To come in now and see it is spectacular. Itâs beautiful. Itâs one of the best places weâve been to, just the way they did it and obviously theyâre still not finished. The playing area, the seating area, the whole in-game thing, itâs a really cool place.â