CHICAGO (AP)Aaliyah Edwards scored 16 points, including two clutch baskets down the stretch, and No. 4 UConn edged DePaul 72-69 on Saturday to clinch at least a share of the Big East regular season championship.
DePaul led by as much seven in the second half and was nursing a four-point lead late in the fourth of a tight, physical, contest, but Edwards and Lou Lopez Senechal scored to tie it at 65 with 3:10 left.
Then Edwards scored off a turnover with 2:40 to go to put the Huskies ahead. Nika Muhl nailed 3-pointer from the corner with 1:13 to go for a 70-65 UConn lead.
Anaya Peoples hit two free throws and then layup with 17 seconds left to pull the Blue Demons to within one. DePaul star Aneesah Morrow raced down the court in the final seconds with a chance to win it, but was forced into a turnover with nine seconds left.
”It speaks to our maturity as a team,” Edwards said of the wild finish. ”We know that we can close out these types of games.
”Just us competing and being tough is really what it comes down to. No game is going to be easy. As you know, we’ve been dealing with stuff like this all season.”
Little has come easy for the injury-riddled Huskies this season. Just ask coach Geno Auriemma
”I’ve seen things this year I haven’t seen in 30 years,” Auriemma said. ”They find a way, we’re living on the edge, but they find a way to make one big play after another after another after another.
”We might not play well for 37 minutes and play and play great in three minutes and win the game. It’s probably playing better that playing great for 37 minutes and losing the game.”
Muhl, who finished 13 points, sank a pair of free throws with seven seconds remaining to ice it. Peoples missed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
Aubrey Griffin finished with 14 points and nine rebounds for UConn (26-5, 17-2 Big East)
Huskies forward Dorka Juhasz scored 13 points and pulled in eight rebounds despite suffering an ankle injury with 1:12 left in the first quarter. She scored 10 of UConn’s first 17 points before getting hurt, then returned in the second quarter after receiving treatment.
Morrow scored 25 points and pulled in eight rebounds, but the Blue Demons (15-15, 8-11) lost another tight one to the Huskies. DePaul has dropped 23 straight to UConn, dating to Dec. 29, 1983.
”You aren’t supposed to get any stars of your forehead for playing hard,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. ”We competed, but we didn’t execute in the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball.
”We needed some defensive stops and didn’t get it. We needed some better offensive looks and didn’t get it.”
Morrow was dominant despite frequently facing tight double-team coverage by the Huskies. Darrione Rogers scored 15 and Keke Rimmer had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Peoples finished with 11 points.
The teams were tied 37 all after a tight, physical first half. DePaul scored the first five points for the biggest lead either team had in the opening 20 minutes.
Morrow had 10 points and six rebounds in the half while playing 19 minutes. Griffin matched Juhasz with 10 points in the half.
Rimmer hit a jumper from the paint with 25 seconds left in the third to give DePaul a 57-50 lead, a seven-point margin that was the largest in the game.
UConn: The Huskies have been hampered by injuries and the loss of Juhesz, who entered averaging 14.4 points and 34.7 minutes, would have hurt heading into March. The 6-foot-5 Hungarian graduate student curled up on the floor near the basket for a minute late in the first half before being helped off and favoring her right leg. The Huskies are still without star Azzi Fudd, who reinjured her right knee on Jan. 15 versus Georgetown. Auriemma said Fudd is making progress, but couldn’t project her return day. Fudd has missed 21 games this season, but hopes to return in time to help UConn make a run next month at a 12th national title. . Only two Huskies, Edwards and Lopez Senechal, who is nursing general soreness, have played every game this season.
DePaul: Morrow, a sophomore from Chicago, entered has DePaul’s leading scorer improved 769 points for the season, 35 short of a team record 804 set by Diana Vines in 1988-89. She’s also the team’s rebound leader. Nazlah, Morrow, Annesah’s sister, along with starting guard Rimmer were two Blue Demons seniors honored before DePaul’s final home game.
UConn: Concludes regular-season play when it hosts Xavier on Monday.
DePaul: At Marquette on Monday in its regular-season finale.