PHILADELPHIA — Georgetown entered Sunday’s Sweet 16 game against powerhouse Connecticut convinced it not only could keep the proceedings within reach, but even topple the finest team in the land.
The fifth-seeded Hoyas then came agonizingly close to completing the improbable: With just less than 10 minutes remaining, they led the two-time defending national champions by seven points and had momentum squarely in their corner. But from there, poor shooting became contagious during a roughly five-minute stretch, and Georgetown was unable to weather the top-seeded Huskies’ counterattack in a 68-63 loss at Liacouras Center.
“I think this is probably one of the best games I’ve seen our players play in a long time, especially against Connecticut,” Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “As I told the players, there was just one small segment where we didn’t score, and Connecticut continued to score. We didn’t get the stops that we needed to get, and that little segment cost us the game, but I can’t be any more proud of my student-athletes today.”
Ahead 53-46 with 9 minutes 36 seconds left after a pair of free throws by junior guard Alexa Roche, the Hoyas went without a point until Roche’s layup at 4:30. Connecticut, meantime, chipped away until senior guard Lorin Dixon’s jumper with 6:19 left gave the Huskies the lead for good and compelled Williams-Flournoy to call timeout.
Coming out of the break, Big East player of the year Maya Moore bumped Connecticut’s margin to six on a jumper and two free throws, and when she made the front end of a one-and-one moments later, the Huskies had a 63-55 buffer with 3:07 remaining.
The Hoyas (24-11) twice got within four points in the final minutes, but when sophomore guard Sugar Rodgers’s three-point attempt that would have cut the deficit to one rattled around the rim and out with 16 seconds left, Georgetown’s dreams of advancing to its first region final were ended.
Even in defeat, the Hoyas’ postgame news conference served more as validation of Georgetown’s climb to prominence rather than a gloomy accounting of the loss.
“Absolutely not,” senior guard Monica McNutt said emphatically when asked if there was any comfort in simply going toe-to-toe with the seven-time national champions. “In case you haven’t noticed, our program is on the rise. We are past the point of moral victories. We should be in the Elite Eight.”
McNutt’s declaration comes with the substance to match. Once a women’s basketball afterthought not only nationally but also in the Washington area, Georgetown outlasted eight-time national champion Tennessee in November, beat three other ranked teams during the regular season and throttled Maryland on its home court to advance to the round of 16.
Once they got here, the Hoyas had Connecticut (35-1) on its heels for most of the first half and in the rare circumstance of trailing after intermission. But with a chance to push the lead perhaps into double figures, Georgetown’s players began misfiring, including a particularly rough patch for Rodgers, who finished with 11 points on 3-of-17 shooting after averaging 30 points in the first two rounds of the tournament.
Those struggles emerged in part because the first-team all-Big East selection had to play the point following early foul trouble to junior starter Rubylee Wright. Rodgers was never able to settle into a rhythm while she tried to run the offense instead of freeing herself for open looks, and Georgetown’s pace decelerated because of it.
Rodgers scored her fewest points since collecting just nine against Cincinnati on Feb. 5, leaving McNutt as the team’s high scorer with 17, including 5 of 9 from three-point range. Tia Magee (12 points, team-high 13 rebounds) was the only other Hoyas player to reach double figures.
Moore, a national player of the year front-runner, had 23 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs, for Connecticut, which will make is 17th appearance in the round of eight. Bria Hartley, the Big East freshman of the year, added 17 points and six assists. No other Connecticut player scored more than nine points.
“We’re fortunate we made some huge plays within the last seven or eight minutes, and when it was time for our team to win the game, we stepped up and won the game,” Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma said. “Georgetown didn’t lose the game as much as I think we won the game.”