HARTFORD, Conn. — So that’s what elite women’s basketball looks like …
After absorbing a 97-37 defeat at the hands of No. 1 Connecticut on Thursday, the Aggies were philosophical, nonetheless disappointed.
“We went into this game with one mission, and that was to give them our best effort for 40 minutes and see where we measured up with that,” UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross told The Enterprise. “I asked our team afterwards if they thought we were able to give our best effort for 40 minutes and they felt like we fell short.
“We’ve got to be able to step on the floor every night and play 40 minutes of our best basketball.
“We’ve yet to do that. Maybe you’re not supposed to do that until March, but we’ve got to take some steps toward that.”
Playing before 8,148 fans at the XL Center (about 25 miles west of its Storrs Village campus), UConn showed its dominance in all elements of the game.
The Huskies (10-0) shot 56.1 percent from the field, scoring almost at will inside. Down low, Connecticut has 6-foot-5 All-American Stefanie Dolson and 2013 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart, a 6-foot-4 sophomore.
UCD (2-5) had few answers under the basket and was outscored 48-12 in the paint.
Husky guard Bria Hartley was 5-for-5 from 3-Point Land and shot 8-for-9 overall en route to 25-point performance.
Hartley, Dolson and Stewart are three of Connecticut’s four players on the Naismith Award Watch List. UCD got a break with the other member of that quartet — Kaleena Mosquedo-Lewis — out with an elbow injury.
Regardless, the home team left little doubt about its No. 1 ranking.
UCD was outrebounded, 39-24. The Aggies suffered 29 turnovers and were held to 31 percent shooting.
UConn led 60-17 at halftime, despite the locals having etched out an early 5-4 lead.
A 31-2 Huskies run — a spurt in which Gross was forced to call three timeouts — erased all hope. Even after Sydnee Fipps drove hard inside for UCD’s first basket in more than eight minutes, Connecticut wasn’t finished lowering the boom.
With their leading scorer Fipps (13 points) on and off the bench with foul trouble, the Aggies watched their hosts close out the final 8:33 with a 25-8 blitz.
“I thought Sydnee was really tremendous to start the game,” Gross said. “She got into a little foul trouble, which hurt us. It’s tough to score in the paint against a team like UConn.
“She found ways to split into gaps and protected the ball really well and used different sides of the basket to score. I was really impressed with her early. I was disappointed when she got into foul trouble.”
As a team, UCD pushed UConn a little after the break.
Heidi Johnson, shut out in the first half, scored five points and took a couple of boards from the bigger Huskies. Swingman Kelsey Harris hit two treys in each half and she, Johnson and the rest of Aggies seemed to be communicating at both ends of the court.
“Heidi, I thought, gave us tremendous energy and I told her that after the game. I was hearing her voice. I’m asking the players, ‘I need to see the urgency. I need to see the energy,’ and Heidi did just that,” Gross said. “She can be a real spark for us, we just have to keep her confident.
“When she’s confident, she’s knocking down shots, she’s playing good defense and she’s a very capable player for us.”
Still, the Huskies outscored UCD, 37-20, after halftime.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma has three front-line players on the rack. In addition to Mosquedo-Lewis, 6-foot-2 Morgan Tuck (knee) is out for two to four weeks and 6-3 center Kiah Stokes will miss two games after rolling her ankle in a Thursday morning walk-through.
“We’ve done some great things in spite of the injuries. We have played some good teams and played well. With the exception of last Sunday, we have played really good basketball at both ends of the floor,” Auriemma told the assembled post-game media.
The eight-time national champion coach said he was really pleased with his team’s defense, adding: “We might have had more tipped passes (Thursday) than in all the other games combined.”
He also thought the Aggies offense — in theory almost a mirror image of UConn’s — is one that “will do well (down the line). They get their shots and will win games against other teams. Just not us.”
Gross said the game was a good measuring stick:
“I think, first of all, you go into a game like this to see how you measure up against the best. I think we learned that we have some work to do.
“What I was pleased with was that we stepped on the floor and we weren’t afraid. We stepped on the floor ready to compete, which I was pleased with. What I think we are taking from it is, you have to maintain that level of focus and intensity for the whole game if you’re going to compete at this level.”
UCD will get another crack at the Huskies next November at The Pavilion.
Notes: Myrna and Paul Costello, the parents of former Aggie guard Genevieve Costello who died of breast cancer in May, were at the game — sitting behind the UCD bench with family and friends. “She was with us,” an emotional Gross said of the 2009 graduate. “You could feel her. And to have her folks there … it was pretty special.” Paul Costello is a UConn graduate. Associate head coach Chris Dailey remembered hosting Genevieve at a Huskies’ camp one year: “It truly is a small world.” … Stewart finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds while Dolson had 18 points and five points. … The Aggies continue their eastern swing with a 10 a.m. (PST) Saturday game at Hofstra (3-3) of the Colonial Athletic Association. The locals are at St. Mary’s (Dec. 15) and at Santa Clara (Dec. 18) before returning home to meet Houston Baptist on Dec. 21. … UCD lost at then-No. 3 Stanford, 66-48, last month.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org