STORRS, Conn. -- If the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's goal is to get better each day, mission accomplished.
After a shaky finish in their season opener at No. 12 Florida State Monday, the third-ranked Huskies closed like a champion Thursday night under the view of their 11th and newest national championship banner.
Freshman Crystal Dangerfield came off the bench for 19 points, five assists, and a pair of steals in a stirring 30 minutes as UConn used a decisive 16-2 fourth-quarter run to break the game's last tie and stun No. 2 Baylor 72-61 before a raucous 9,049 at Gampel Pavilion.
"We were in an attack mode more tonight," UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson said. "In the fourth quarter we decided that we were the ones who were going to set the pace. We were going to control it. Against Florida State, there were some moments that we thought, 'We can't let them score,' and we were kind of scared of what they would do. We embraced the fact that we would be ready to play the last several minutes."
It's the first time in 18 years that the Huskies have opened a season with two ranked teams and many figured the second-longest winning streak in NCAA history would be history.
Instead, UConn (2-0) will take a 77-game winning streak to Baton Rouge for its game with LSU Sunday.
"This is the way it's going to go," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We're only in game two and they've already gone through a lot of experiences that sometimes you don't go through in the whole season. Yesterday at practice and today at shootaround there was a distinct difference in the way we operated.
"Yet the first 20 minutes felt like Florida State all over again. But after the first time out of the second half we reset their clock. In those last six, seven minutes we grew up a lot. We came of age. That doesn't mean we're old enough that we don't need to grow some more. But relative to Monday night, we earned it. We were good tonight. We were good when we had to be good."
Samuelson added 16 points and worked hard to earn all of them. Gabby Williams got into early foul trouble for the second straight game but again responded with a strong second half to finish with 14 points. Napheesa Collier recorded a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Baylor (2-1) got 23 points from Alexis Jones and 11 from Kristy Wallace. But Kalani Brown, who dominated against No. 9 UCLA in the Bears' win in Waco Monday, finished with just nine points and five rebounds in 19 minutes. And two-time All-American Nina Davis, who is 14 points shy of 2,000 for her career, was blanked in 24 minutes.
"Playing at UConn, the kind of thing we hold close is that it's a marathon and you're not going to beat us in a sprint," Williams said. "If we're going to say that, we have to make it a marathon ourselves."
Baylor came in with an average rebound margin of plus-31. The Bears won the battle of the boards against the Huskies 39-29 but the edge in second-chance points was only 15-11. Coach Kim Mulkey also got nothing from prized freshmen Lauren Cox and Natalie Chou with Mulkey having a quick hook on the rookies as soon as they made any kind of mistake.
Meanwhile, UConn's star freshman hit her first shot, a three, late in the first quarter and was off to the races.
"If it had come out, I still would have had energy. It went in so I kept right on rolling," Dangerfield said. "The coaches know what I'm capable of and they expect it from me. But you have to go out there and do it."
UConn led by as many as eight in the first half but settled for a 32-29 edge at the break.
Baylor scored the first seven points of the third quarter to go in front. It marked the first time in the 77-game winning streak that the Huskies trailed in the second half in back-to-back games. But at 38-34, Dangerfield and Williams sparked a 18-4 run to put the Huskies up by 10.
The Bears had a response of their own and tied it at 54 on Brown's layup with 7:27 remaining.
Then UConn took charge.
"We focused on stop/score, stop/score, stop/score," Williams said. "It's a lot harder said than done. The key was to make them work for 30 seconds on defense to make it harder for them to get their offense going."
Two baskets by Williams sandwiched around one by Collier got it started. After Brown scored for Baylor, Dangerfield scored. Samuelson then hit four three throws with a Dangerfield pull-up in between to push the lead into double figures. Collier's layup off a pass from Williams made it 70-56 with a minute to go and the second big celebration of the night was on.
"Toughness," Mulkey said of the difference between the teams in the stretch drive. Just flat out toughness, taking balls away from posts when they threw it in there. A turnover here or there, just cuts for them on offense. Just toughness. That's all it was."
Dangerfield finished 8-for-14 shooting for the floor and added four rebounds with only one turnover to go with her five assists. Kia Nurse did have another tough shooting night (3 for 12) but contributed six assists with only one turnover and made things tough on Jones in the waning minutes.
UConn will play a return game with the Bears in Waco during the 2018-19 season.
The Huskies head to LSU confident that they can take another step forward.
"We are going to put up a fight every game," Samuelson said. "Nobody is going to be able to just take us out and think like, 'Oh, they're just going to lose this game.' We're going to be ready to fight every single game we go into and we know it's going to be difficult each game. But we also know that we want to be in this situation and we just showed that every single night we can have a different person step up and be a big key to our win."