ATLANTA (AP) — Geno Auriemma wasn’t feeling too good about his UConn Huskies even when they had their best player.
Now that Paige Bueckers is sidelined for up to two months with an injury, the longtime coach is really feeling pessimistic.
Georgia Tech made No. 3 UConn look downright feeble in the final quarter, pulling away for 57-44 victory Thursday night that showed just how tough its going to be for the Huskies without the reigning national player of the year.
“We’re in a bad way right now as a team,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think we’re gonna get it fixed. I really don’t. I’ve been doing this a long, long time. I know coaches are supposed to be optimistic, eternal optimists. But I’m too old to be optimist. I’m a realist. I truly believe what I see.”
With both teams struggling to muster offense, the game was tied at halftime (28-28) and at the end of the third quarter (39-39).
But Georgia Tech (7-2) pulled away in the fourth quarter before a raucous crowd of 4,578 to snap UConn’s 240-game winning streak against unranked opponents.
The Huskies’ last such loss came against St. John’s on Feb. 18, 2012.
It also marked the first time since 2006 that UConn (5-2) has been held under 45 points in a game.
“You’re always told that if you work work hard, play good defense, rebound the ball, you have a chance to win the game,” Auriemma said. “But it’s not going to win the game for you. You’ve still got to score. You still have to be organized. We’re disorganized. That’s the biggest thing I can tell you. We’re a disorganized group right now, from the coaching on down.”
Lotta-Maj Lahtinen scored 15 points and Nerea Hermosa chipped in with 13 points to lead the Yellow Jackets, who played with plenty of inspiration after revealing that associate head coach Tasha Butts is being treated for advanced-stage breast cancer.
The players were told of Butts’ illness last week. Since then, they’ve knocked off No. 21 Georgia 55-54, followed by one of the biggest wins in school history.
“She’s a fighter,” Lahtinen said. “We play for her all the time. She’s a part of us, she’s a part of our team — a really, really big part.”
The 39-year-old Butts plans to keep coaching as much as possible while undergoing treatment. She was at the arena for the pregame shootaround but not on the bench for the game.
Instead, Butts visited with the team on FaceTime after their victory.
“We want her on bench with us, but she needs to take care of herself right now,” Lahtinen said. “Hopefully, she’ll be back with us soon. We’re in this fight with her.”
UConn, averaging 74.5 points a game with Bueckers, missed its first nine shots of the final period, along with committing six turnovers.
The Huskies (5-2) were held to a single free throw in the fourth until Evina Westbrook finally knocked down a shot with 1:18 remaining.
By then, it was far too late. UConn hit 18 of 58 shots (31%) and looked lost without Bueckers, who was leading the team in scoring, assists, steals and minutes.
Christyn Williams topped UConn with 13 points but made just 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
Bueckers was injured in the final minute of Sunday’s 73-54 victory over Notre Dame. She suffered a fracture just below her left knee and will be sidelined for up to two months.
UConn also was without freshman Azzi Fudd, the nation’s consensus top recruit last year. She is resting a stress injury to her right foot.
The McCamish Pavilion crowd was the sixth-largest in Georgia Tech women’s basketball history, and the players certainly noticed.
“The crowd definitely gave us that energy,” Lahtinen said. “Every time we got a charge, or a stop, or a rebound, McCamish just erupted. That’s an amazing feeling. When I realized it was our game, I got goosebumps because everybody was in it with us.”
UConn: The Huskies got their first taste of playing without their best player — and it wasn’t pretty. They have now lost as many games as all of last season, when UConn reached its 13th straight Final Four but was upset in the semifinals by Arizona.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets showed plenty of focus after the difficult news regarding Butts. They picked up their first win over a top-3 team since Jan. 22, 2009, when they defeated No. 2 North Carolina 66-62.
UConn: Faces UCLA on Saturday in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at Newark, New Jersey, part of a doubleheader that also includes the UConn men taking on St. Bonaventure.
Georgia Tech: Hosts Furman on Sunday.
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