The University of Connecticut women's basketball team survived its first American Athletic Conference fourth-quarter challenge.
Kayla Manuirirangi's 40-foot shot to tie was off the mark and the top-ranked Huskies pushed their winning streak to 101 by holding off Tulane 63-60 in AAC play at Devlin Fieldhouse in New Orleans
"We made enough good plays at the end to win the game," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said during his postgame press conference. "A couple of those kids from Tulane just played their hearts out. It's a shame they had to lose the game because our guys had no business winning the game."
Napheesa Collier was plagued by foul trouble but finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocked shots for UConn (26-0 overall, 13-0 AAC). Katie Lou Samuelson added 17 points while Gabby Williams had nine points, 14 rebounds, and five assists.
Kia Nurse missed her first career game with a right ankle injury that was aggravated in last Monday night's victory over South Carolina. She had played in 102 consecutive games and had 73 straight starts.
"It means you're going to have to use rotations you don't like," Auriemma said. "What are you going to do? This is a team. When you're a team guys are supposed to be able fill in and get the job done. Today we didn't do it the way we've been doing it."
It was the first single-figure AAC win in 76 games -- including the postseason -- for UConn. The previous closest game was 14 points against South Florida in the 2015 AAC tournament championship game. The Huskies beat Tulane (16-11, 7-7) 100-56 at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 22.
Saturday night's game began the same way as Collier had seven points in a 10-0 start. But Tulane hung around and the Huskies needed a 3 from freshman Crystal Dangerfield -- who started in Nurse's spot -- to lead 28-18 at halftime.
A Samuelson trey made it 38-21 in the third quarter but the Green Wave responded with nine unanswered points and were within 48-42 going to the fourth quarter.
"They got down 17 and maybe our guys are used to the other team not making shots and struggling," Auriemma said. "Tulane decided to fight back. For one of the first times this year, we didn't necessarily have the kind of response you would want to have in the game."
The Huskies were unable to build on their advantage and the Green Wave pulled within two on a Maddison Wells basket with 1:14 left. Samuelson doubled the lead as she scored after picking up a loose ball, and a Dangerfield free throw with 28.7 seconds to go made it 62-57.
Leslie Vorpahl banked in a 3-pointer to get Tulane back within two and Dangerfield went 1-for-2 at the line for a 63-60 edge with 10.6 seconds remaining. Dangerfield stole an inbounds pass and was fouled but missed both at the line with 4.4 seconds to go but the Green Wave, with no time outs remaining, could only manage Manuirirangi's desperation shot.
"We were really frazzled for a lot of the game," Collier said to SNY's Justine Ward. "We were forcing a lot of stuff that we normally don't and were making a lot more turnovers than we usually have.
"They played really well and we didn't. I think we're disappointed in ourselves because we can play better than we did."
UConn shot 38.0 percent from the floor. Throw out Collier's 7-for-9 effort and it was 29.3 percent for the rest of the team. The Huskies also had 18 turnovers and scored only 12 points off of 12 Tulane miscues.
"Like in baseball, a couple guys start to hit and everyone hits. Guys start striking out and they go into a hitting and scoring slump," Auriemma said. "It's the same in basketball. Guys start missing and you need guys to step up and make some. I was disappointed in the fact people who have been making shots all year long for the most part all of a sudden don't want to shoot the ball because they're afraid they're going to miss and weren't shooting with a lot of confidence.
"But there's one kid on our team that you know every night is going to show up and give you the same thing every night. That's Napheesa. She was the difference tonight."
Kolby Morgan led Tulane with 19 points. Vorpahl added 16 points and six assists while Tene Thompson had 14 points off the bench. The Green Wave lost starting forward Harlyn Wyatt early in the game with an apparent knee injury.
The closest Tulane had come to UConn in six previous meetings was 40 points on Feb. 27, 2016, a game the Green Wave led 13-2 in the first quarter. The 11-point deficit is the Huskies' largest in the 101-game winning streak.
UConn has won back-to-back games decided by five points or fewer or in overtime after dropping eight in a row following the graduation of Maya Moore in 2011. The other win was a 78-76 victory in the season opener at Florida State on Nov. 14.
"The thing about the game of basketball is that when you play great you should have every expectation of winning the game," Auriemma said. "The flip side is also true. When you don't play well there should be no expectation of winning. What happened today was the wrong team won."
The Huskies return to action Wednesday when they entertain Temple at the XL Center in Hartford (SNY, 7 p.m.) A UConn win over the Owls would clinch the AAC regular season title outright and give the Huskies the No. 1 seed for the AAC tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.
NAISMITH FINALISTS INCLUDE LOBO
Former UConn star and current ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo is among 14 finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, the Hall announced Saturday.
Lobo, who is listed as a contributor, is a finalist for the first time. Other finalists from the women's committee are Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, and Wayland Baptist University, which won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU national championships from 1954 through 1975. Mulkey is also a first-time finalist.
A finalist needs 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee for election into the Hall of Fame. The Class of 2017 will be announced on April 3 at a press conference in Phoenix prior to the NCAA men's national championship game and will be enshrined during festivities in Springfield, Massachusetts, Sept. 7-9
Lobo, a native of Southwick, Massachusetts, was a two-time All-American and two-time Big East Player of the Year. In 1995, she was the consensus national Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Final Four when she led UConn to a 35-0 record and the program's first national championship. She was also a two-time CoSIDA academic first-team All-American.
She finished her Huskies' career with 2,133 points, 1,268 rebounds, and 396 blocked shots.
The 6-foot-4 forward was a member of the 1996 United States Olympic team that won the gold medal in the Games in Atlanta.
She was assigned to the New York Liberty when the WNBA formed in 1997. She also played for the Houston Comets and Connecticut Sun and retired as a member of the Sun after the 2003 season.
Lobo then became an ESPN analyst for women's college basketball and the WNBA. She is also a member of the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees.
In 2010, she was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Auriemma was enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2006.
Former UConn men's coach Dee Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association, will receive the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award. Goldberg died in January.