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The Aftermath: UConn doesn't have the firepower to keep up with South Carolina

As the Huskies learned on Sunday, effort can only go so far when the other side has more weapons.

Photo: Ian Bethune

UConn had not felt the absence of its five injured players like it did in a 83-65 loss to No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday.

In most statistical categories, the Huskies held their own. Both sides turned the ball over 13 times. UConn got out-rebounded 46-37 but had one fewer second-chance point than the Gamecocks. The two teams took the same number of shots and South Carolina had just two more free throws.

The difference lies in the scoring, specifically off the bench. The Gamecocks’ reserves scored 19 points while the Huskies’ managed just three — a 16-point difference in an 18-point game. South Carolina played nine players while eight scored. UConn had just nine healthy players available but only used seven.

“Going into the game, when you're playing with sort of the limitations that we have with our roster right now, you're going to need a little bit of help, obviously, and you're going to have to play exceptionally well,” Geno Auriemma said postgame.

It’s not as if the Huskies could’ve asked for a whole lot more than they got. Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards each scored 20 points. Ashlynn Shade chipped in 14.

KK Arnold could’ve had a better shooting night (she was just 1-7) but still played well by pushing the pace, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists.

Nika Mühl had a rough day with five turnovers, but in terms of scoring, it’s hard to ask for much more than her six points. Her season-high is 14 and she’s only reached double-figures in eight of 25 contests.

“Our starting five has to play really, really well every night for us to be able to win these games,” Auriemma said.

UConn could’ve done better hitting open shots (it made 36.6 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three) and converting layups (it went 10-23) but it would’ve taken a herculean effort to pull off the upset.

“When you get as many open looks as we got, you need to make most of those in a game like this,” Auriemma said.

Still, it’s not like one or two things could’ve been fixed that would’ve magically made the game closer. The Huskies were simply out-gunned in every sense of the word while South Carolina showed why it’s the undefeated No. 1 team in the nation.

“If you're going to win a game like this, you either have to have more more players, better talent, or you're going to have to play a much smarter game, and get some help from the other team,” Auriemma said. “We did not play a very smart game in the first half and we certainly didn't get any help from them because they took advantage of every mistake that we that we made.”

Considering the circumstances, UConn put up a good fight. It battled for all 40 minutes and never folded — unlike the loss at Texas. South Carolina led by as many as 27 early in the fourth quarter but the Huskies rallied to at least avoid their first 20-point loss since 2007.

“I thought we competed like hell. There were just some times we were worn down today. Those guys did play their brains out,” Auriemma said.

Nothing that happened on Sunday should change any opinions about this year’s UConn team. The Gamecocks are clearly a step above every other team in the nation.

The Huskies will need some luck to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament — that’s nothing new. UConn is a better than a lot of teams, but there’s some that it simply doesn’t match up well against. South Carolina is atop that list.

Still, they don’t need to beat everyone. They just have to win the game in front of them — whatever (or whoever) that ends up being.

Last year, UConn got a bad draw by facing an Ohio State team that exploited its lack of ball-handlers in the Sweet Sixteen. The Huskies could very well run into a team with size or scoring depth that ends their season. Or the results could all fall the right way and a path could open up for UConn to get to Cleveland.

All that was true before Sunday’s game tipped off and it remains so afterwards. The Huskies have as good of a 1-2 combo with Bueckers and Edwards as anyone which should be enough to overcome a good chunk of the field. Still, they’re a deeply flawed team that needs a lot to go right for them in March.

The biggest takeaway from Sunday: UConn needs to hope it doesn’t see South Carolina again.

Other notes and quotes from the loss on Sunday:

Don’t expect Amari DeBerry and Inês Bettencourt to get more minutes

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