For the first time in 30 years, the UConn Huskies women's basketball team lost back-to-back games as it fell Wednesday to the Marquette Golden Eagles 59-52 in Milwaukee. It was a season low in points for the Huskies, and the first time Marquette has ever defeated UConn.
"I told the team this: I'm surprised that it's taken this long for us to have that kind of mental checkout," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of his team's struggles. "And it's the first time all year in 20-some games that it's happened. Tonight happened to be that night. And against the wrong team."
The No. 4 Huskies lost to No. 1 South Carolina 81-77 on Sunday in Hartford, Connecticut. The program's last consecutive losses came in 1993, when the Huskies lost to the Providence Friars in the Big East tournament on March 7 and then to the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA tournament on March 17.
That was two years after UConn advanced to its first women's Final Four and two years before the Huskies won the first of 11 NCAA titles. Since then, UConn was 75-0 after losses and had gone 1,083 consecutive games without back-to-back losses until Wednesday.
UConn has been affected by injuries all season, often playing no more than six or seven players. All-American Paige Bueckers has been out the entire season because of a knee injury. Fellow guards Azzi Fudd (knee) and Caroline Ducharme (concussion) have played just nine and 12 games, respectively. Auriemma said Sunday that Ducharme might return later this week, but without her again Wednesday, UConn's starters all played between 36 and 40 minutes.
In the past two weeks, the Huskies have played two SEC foes -- the Tennessee Lady Volunteers and South Carolina -- in the midst of their Big East schedule. UConn had 19 turnovers to just 12 assists Wednesday, as the Huskies didn't appear as sharp as they typically do. And Marquette took advantage.
"We started the game like it was gonna go exactly the way we had planned," Auriemma said. "I think something happened, and as it started to go the other way -- that one stretch in the first quarter where we had maybe four, five straight turnovers -- I think that just completely, totally deflated us.
"With the week, two weeks we've had, I think mentally all of us -- no one in particular -- just checked out. And it was a major struggle because their team was so locked in to what they wanted to do. All the credit to them, because they were really good."
The Huskies, led by 15 points and 11 rebounds from Dorka Juhasz, fell to 21-4 overall and 13-1 in the Big East. Marquette is now 16-8 and 9-6.
"They disrupted our whole offense," Auriemma said. "We probably didn't push the pace as much as we would like. I think mentally we were just drained. We knew if we got into a half-court scrum, they're bigger, they're strong, they're tough. They executed, they pack in the lane and made it tough for our big guys to operate. They played the game that they needed to play to win. They deserved it."
Auriemma acknowledged fatigue seemed to affect his players.
"I don't know whether it was the residue from Sunday, something in practice yesterday, something on the trip over, but there was a collective something different about today," he said. "There were things we would say on the bench, 'This is what we're going to do.' Then we would go out and it would be completely opposite. That's when you know mentally they're just not here. And, you know, God bless them. I don't know how they've done it this long to be honest with you."
UConn has now lost four games to unranked foes over the past two years as it fell to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Oregon Ducks and Villanova Wildcats last season when those teams were unranked. The Huskies lost only once to an unranked foe from 2005-2006 to 2020-2021, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Senior Chloe Marotta led the Golden Eagles with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Marquette had been 0-16 vs. the Huskies entering the game, which included a 61-48 loss at UConn on Dec. 31. But this is the Golden Eagles' second win against a top-five team this season; they beat the then-No. 3 Texas Longhorns 68-61 on Nov. 19.
"I'm just so incredibly proud of their fight," said Marquette coach Megan Duffy, who as a player with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from 2002 to 2006 faced UConn. "We knew we were big-time underdogs. We watched Connecticut lose on Sunday, and we knew a buzz saw was coming in. But we just kind of stayed together, fed off our home crowd and just continued to make big plays.
"They're the top program in women's basketball history. UConn will have a phenomenal rest of the season, I know it. But for our program, it's huge."