NEWARK, N.J. – Coming off a humbling loss without injured star Paige Bueckers, UConn coach Geno Auriemma hoped his team would learn a lesson.
The third-ranked Huskies struggled again without the reigning national player of the year, but held off UCLA 71-61 Saturday, managing to keep intact a streak of not losing back-to-back games dating to March 1993.
On Thursday, in their first game without Bueckers, the Huskies fell to unranked Georgia Tech and were held to a season-low 44 points.
“That particular loss the other night probably told a lot of players that you’re not good enough right now with the way you’re playing basketball and told our team that you’re not playing as a team,” Auriemma said.
“And you can use any excuse you want. Well, we don’t half our team. And that’s not either here or there. You can still play as a team even though you’re missing key components of your team. So I think the change was to try and play more as a team,” he said.
Dorka Juhasz shot 5 of 5 for 16 points to go with 16 rebounds and Evina Westbrook added 17 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for the Huskies (6-2) as all five starters scored in double figures.
UCLA (5-3) trailed 65-51 with 1:20 left before scoring 10 straight points, closing within four with 37 seconds to go. The Huskies pulled away after that.
“I just had that little bit of my confidence,” Juhasz said. “Last game was a hard one. All of us got together, we fought through adversity as a whole team. It’s not just me. Everybody was great today.”
Bueckers fractured her left tibia at the knee Sunday in a win over Notre Dame. She was averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.5 rebounds and has accounted for 52% of the Huskies’ offense in points or assists this season.
Charisma Osbornes led UCLA with with 26 points, while Jaelynn Penn had 10 points and seven rebounds. The Bruins fell to 0-7 overall against UConn.
The Huskies had trouble finding their rhythm at the start against UCLA and trailed by as many 11. Caroline Ducharme hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half, capping an 11-2 run that pulled UConn within 30-28.
“There are moments in games when someone has to make a play of some sort. You have to have the kind of players that can make those plays during those moments. Sometimes those moments are early in the game. Sometimes they’re late in the game,” Auriemma said.
“What changed in the second quarter is there were more clean stops by us and being able to get out a little bit in transition and try to get some baskets early in the shot clock, around the lane. That gave us a little bit of momentum,” he said.
A fast-break layup by Westbrook after a steal from Aaliyah Edwards put the Huskies ahead for good at 43-42 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. The basket came during a 14-0 run that made it 50-42, with Juhasz scoring seven of the points.
Up by 14 points, UConn missed five straight foul shots in less than a minute as UCLA closed to 65-61 on Dominique Onu’s layup with 37 seconds left.
“We didn’t come here for moral victories. Those days are past for UCLA basketball,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We came here to compete and win, and obviously we’re disappointed.”
The Huskies also are without freshman Azzi Fudd. The nation’s consensus top recruit last year is out because of a stress injury to her right foot, as is sophomore Nika Muhl (right foot).
“They still have a lot of really, really good players, so I don’t really feel sorry for them about that,” Close quipped.
Ducharme finished with 14 points, and Christyn Williams had 11 points, while Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 10 points and eight rebounds for UConn.
Auriemma said Bueckers is considering surgery to repair the tibial plateau fracture.
That would likely extend the time she is out until mid-February at the earliest.
“I think anytime there’s a fracture, that means there’s something that has to be fixed, and you let it be fixed by time or you need to go in there and fix it. So I think by the next couple of days, hopefully we’re going to have a definitive answer,” he said.
The game was part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, raising money for a 9/11-related charity. It’s the first season women’s teams competed in the event. The UCLA-UConn matchup was nationally televised on ABC, becoming the first regular-season collegiate women’s basketball game to ever air on the network. No. 15 UConn men took on St. Bonaventure in the second game of the doubleheader.
UCLA: Host Texas Southern on Thursday.
UConn: Host Louisville on Sunday.