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UConn women win a tight one over St. John's

Updated 6:01 pm, Saturday, February 2, 2013

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  • St. John's guard Shenneika Smith (35) shoots a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in New York. Connecticut defeated St. John's 71-65. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Photo: John Minchillo, Associated Press / FR170537 AP
    St. John's guard Shenneika Smith (35) shoots a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in New York. Connecticut defeated St. John's 71-65. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Photo: John Minchillo, Associated Press

 

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Associated Press

NEW YORK -- One of the few problems that UConn has had over the past few seasons has been winning tight games. Then again the Huskies haven't been in too many of them.

Geno Auriemma welcomed the chance to see his team finally pull out a close victory.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 points, including seven straight in the final minutes, to lead No. 3 UConn to a 71-65 victory over St. John's on Saturday.

"The more times you're in that situation the more confident you become," Auriemma said. "It's hard to orchestrate those in real games -- not that I'm trying hard to do that either. Today was a great opportunity for us and we came out really good."

The Huskies had been 0-5 in games that were decided by five points or less or had gone to overtime over the past two seasons. They lost by one-point to Notre Dame earlier this season. In that contest Mosqueda-Lewis missed an open 3-pointer from the corner which would have won it. She wouldn't let it happen again against St. John's.

With the game tied at 57, the sophomore guard took over, scoring UConn's next seven points. She had a three-point play and then hit four free throws to give UConn a 64-59 lead with 1:55 left.

Aliyyah Handford hit one free throw to make it a four-point game with 1:37 left.

Kelly Faris answered with a 3-pointer 20 seconds later to seal the win for the Huskies (20-1, 7-1 Big East).

"I was trying to get her the ball down the stretch because I knew she would do something good with it," said Kelly Faris, who added 17 points for the Huskies.

Shenneika Smith led St. John's (10-10, 4-4) with 21 points while Handford added a career-high 17.

This was the first regular season meeting between the two schools since St. John's stunned UConn last season in Storrs, ending the Huskies 99-game home winning streak.

That victory also snapped a 27-game losing skid to the Huskies that dated to 1993. The two teams played in the Big East tournament quarterfinals a few weeks later and UConn won 74-43.

In that loss, Mosqueda-Lewis was just 3 for 12 and admitted she was nervous.

"I watched the game last year and she wasn't ready to play," Auriemma said. "She was completely different than she was last year, a lot more confident."

The Red Storm showed no fear Saturday hanging with the Huskies, who were missing starting center Stefanie Dolson because she wasn't feeling well. The Huskies didn't find out until just before the game that Dolson wouldn't play.

"She's become a huge part of what we do offensively and defensively, a lot of our offense runs through her," Faris said. "Some way or another the offense kind of stems on what she does."

Handford, a freshman who wasn't part of last season's incredible game, helped the Red Storm build a 51-46 lead midway through the second half. UConn used a 9-2 run to take a 55-53 lead. Faris' 3-pointer capped the burst.

The game was tied at 35 at the half before St. John's went on a 10-4 run to open the second period. Smith had five points and Handford four during the spurt. UConn answered quickly with its own 7-0 run to take a 46-45 lead with 12:56 left.

Handford and Briana Brown combined for 23 points in the first half. Handford scored consistently in transition while Brown hit all three of her 3-pointers. St. John's shot 54 percent in the first half. The Huskies lost guard Brianna Banks to a right knee sprain in the first half.

St. John's coach Joe Tartamella had a chance to become the first rookie coach in his first head coaching job to beat UConn since John Miller did it for La Salle in 1986.

The Red Storm have had a rough season losing three games in its final possession, including a buzzer-beating loss on a 50-footer against Syracuse in their last home game. The Red Storm also lost in the last seconds to No. 25 Delaware and No. 18 UCLA.

"There's no solace to a loss, we've talked about it a lot this year," Tartamella said. "We really as a staff were very happy with the way our team played today. That's a fun game. It's a fun game against a great opponent. They competed today, played harder than they have all year. They showed them what they are capable of."