Hoyas show grit, tenacity in close contest with No. 4 UConn

February 13, 2023

Photo by Daniel Rankin

The Georgetown Hoyas women’s basketball team (12-13, 5-11 BIG EAST) put on a gritty display at the Entertainment and Sports Arena against No. 4 UConn (22-4, 14-1 BIG EAST) Saturday afternoon, but ultimately fell just short of an improbable comeback, eventually losing 67-59. Georgetown cobbled together an impressive fourth quarter display, winning the quarter 23-13. However, a couple of last second UConn free throws made it a four-point game with 28 seconds left, and the Hoyas couldn’t quite overcome the talent deficit to the Huskies. Freshman guard Kennedy Fauntleroy had perhaps her best game of the season, dropping 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting (four-of-five from three), and looked like the best player on the court despite the Hoyas playing against a stacked—albeit shorthanded—UConn team. 

The Hoyas started the game off on the right foot, jumping out to a quick 8-1 lead in the first with threes by Fauntleroy and senior forward Graceann Bennett and a nice finish inside by junior forward Jada Claude. Despite a decent amount of UConn fans, the stadium was rocking after Georgetown’s hot start, as over 3,500 fans made the trip out to Congress Heights for the marquee matchup. 

“I loved playing here, all of the fans and especially being at home. It gave us a different type of energy,” Fauntleroy remarked post-game. 

One of the keys to the strong Hoya first quarter was their activity on defense. With the Huskies being without star guards junior Paige Bueckers and sophomore Azzi Fudd, the Hoyas knew that pressing the ball up top would be essential if they wanted to walk home with a victory, and Head Coach James Howard dialed up the defensive intensity all game long. UConn’s leading scorer, junior forward Aaliyah Edwards, and their lead ball-handler, junior guard Nika Mühl, each finished the game with four or more turnovers (Edwards with eight turnovers on the night) with the Huskies coughing up the ball *23* times in total on Saturday, as compared to their season average of 17. The Hoyas clearly circled this game on the calendar and came out aggressive and feisty, especially on defense. 

“I thought the buy-in was there, the focus was there,” Howard said when speaking on the energy he got from his team on Saturday. 

UConn had multiple stretches on the day of going four or more minutes without a field goal. Part of that was definitely sloppiness by the Huskies—who seemed to lack the sharpness on their passes and dribbling that basketball fans have grown accustomed to over the years—but part of that was Georgetown overplaying the passing lanes and pressing up on Mühl and the other Husky ball-handlers. 

A lay-up from UConn guard Lou Lopez Sénéchal brough the score to within two with just over two minutes to go in the first, but a Husky turnover, a highlight-reel block by sophomore center Ariel Jenkins, and a pair of tough finishes inside by Fauntleroy pushed the score to 17-13 to end the quarter. 

UConn had just been punched in the mouth, but like any good team, they responded. Edwards in particular was clearly unhappy with her 0-2 shooting and a turnover in the first, and the Husky offense went to work to try to get her going in the second quarter. Using her physicality, Edwards was able to muscle her way inside multiple times and seal off her defender for good positioning, and her teammates found her for easy shots at the rim. After shooting a collective 4-15 from the field in the first, UConn went 7-13 in the second including 3-3 from Edwards.

“That’s why they’re UConn. They might not have all the pieces, but they have that size and that length,” Howard said. 

The first half ended with UConn pulling ahead 31-28 with eight assists on 11-of-27 shooting while Georgetown put up seven assists on 12-of-27 shooting. While the aggressive defense from Georgetown was a major factor in keeping them competitive in the game, the nature of playing physically has a tendency to lead to fouls, which became an issue for the Hoyas. Georgetown committed nine fouls in the first half, leading to eight free throws for the Huskies—which became even more of an issue because UConn was able to stay disciplined with the Hoyas only shooting three free throws in the half.

While fouling was an issue for the Hoyas in the first half, the third quarter was marked by a stagnant offense. Georgetown looked to run a lot of its offense through the low post, throwing it down onto the block and running actions off of that, which got them some nice baskets in the first half off of cuts. But the Huskies adjusted their defensive scheme in the second half, making a deliberate effort to front the post and deny the entry pass down low. This forced the Hoyas to either try to force it in anyways (which led to turnovers), or they’d have to run iso action up top. And while Fauntleroy was en fuego most of the game, when no motion was happening on the court, it made it tough for her—as well as for junior guard Kelsey Ransom—to beat their point-of-attack defenders. Both Fauntleroy and Ransom function better when they’re able to get the ball on the move, so when the ball stopped moving, Fauntleroy and Ransom (and by extension the Hoya offense) were shut down. A couple late shot clock threes by Fauntleroy were essentially the only offense Georgetown could muster in the third, finishing the quarter with just eight points. 

UConn, meanwhile, while not playing their most efficient game, still mustered up just enough scoring in the third. With the Huskies shutting off the water on the Hoya offense, all they needed were a couple nice threes and some timely lay-ups to start to pull away. UConn ended the quarter on an 11-0 run (which would eventually become a 12-0 run after a fourth quarter free throw). 

Things were looking bleak for the Hoyas with that 12-0 run turning what was a single possession game into a 51-36 Husky lead. It looked as if UConn had Georgetown all out of sorts, as the Hoya offense devolved into chucking threes early in the shot clock. Sensing the game was getting out of hand, Coach Howard turned to a full court press in an attempt to force some turnovers. The strategy worked, with UConn getting sloppy, leading to easy fast break points for the Hoyas. Fauntleroy and Ransom were fantastic at reading the easily telegraphed Husky passes, as Fauntleroy tallied five steals and Ransom not far behind with four. 

The tides started to shift with under five minutes to go. A Graceann Bennett three, an Aaliyah Edwards turnover, and a pair of free throws by graduate guard Kristina Moore led to chants of “Let’s go, Hoyas!” raining down on the court with the Hoyas cutting the lead to just seven. With just over a minute to go, Claude missed a three from the top of the key, but the Hoyas were relentless on the glass, and Claude cleaned up her own miss to make it a 63-58 game. A travel by UConn gave Georgetown a chance to make it a single possession game, but the Hoyas could only muster a Ransom free throw. The Hoyas just couldn’t quite capitalize on the UConn mistakes and were forced to play the free throw game for the last 30 seconds. UConn escaped with a 67-59 win.

“We still tried to go in there and tried to put a body on them, but some things we just missed on and they were able to capitalize,” Howard remarked on the tough loss.

 While moral victories don’t show up in the win column, pushing the No. 4 team in the country to the brink and seeing Fauntleroy put on a show were both extremely encouraging signs for the Hoyas. If they can turn it up like this on a night-to-night basis, they should be able to compete with anyone.

The Hoyas play at Butler (8-17, 3-13 BIG EAST) this Wednesday, with senior night coming up soon at McDonough Arena on Feb. 21 against Providence (13-13, 4-11 BIG EAST). For continued coverage of all Georgetown sports, follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter.

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