By JOHN ALTAVILLA, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
11:16 PM EST, December 6, 2012
Contrary to popular opinion, not every UConn women's basketball game is played with an accompanying laugh track. It only seems that way, especially if you cue the College of Charleston tape for entertainment.
Every so often, UConn's games maintain their heartbeat, even if the officiating causes palpitations.
Every so often an opponent shows up without fear and the result pulsates longer than you'd expect. Like for longer than the first 10 minutes.
Every so often came again Thursday.
Don't tell No. 10 Penn State that it didn't have a chance to beat UConn. It didn't play that way. The Lady Lions came to campus channeling many of the disruptive characteristics that gave Monday's win against Maryland its distinctive steel-cage feel.
Intensity stoked its fire. And UConn felt the heat for 34 minutes after which its lead was just three.
Then Brianna Banks, the unsung hero of the season, freshman Moriah Jefferson and sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis doused the flame midway through the second half.
Mosqueda-Lewis, cleared to play just before game time because of a cranky left quad, scored a season-high 25 points, shooting 4 of 7 from three, to lead the Huskies to a difficult but satisfying 67-52 win at Gampel Pavilion.
Penn State (6-2) was led by junior guard Maggie Lucas, who had 15 points (5 of 12) before fouling out in the final minute. But the Lady Lions had 26 turnovers and shot just 33.9 percent.
"We wanted to be patient against the press," Lions coach Coquese Washington said. "We tried to take our shots late in the shot clock when we could."
Banks (10 points) was the only other UConn player in double figures. Breanna Stewart, the team's leading scorer for the season, was 1 of 3 for seven points in 20 minutes.
"It was just so hard to get any offense going," coach Geno Auriemma said.
UConn (8-0) does not play again until Dec. 19 against Oakland (Mich.) at the XL Center. In the next two weeks, the only important tests will come with No. 2 pencils and touch pads in their hands.
The stress of this tight, tense game finally began to relent when Banks drained a jumper inside the foul line to give the Huskies a 40-31 lead with 12:25 to play. And a few minutes later, defensive pressure by Jefferson led to two hoops that pushed UConn's lead to 51-36.
But until consumed by the enormity of UConn's depth, and the relentlessness of 38 fouls called against both teams, the Lady Lions clawed.
"It was a frustrating game to play, it was a frustrating game to coach, it was a frustrating game to watch," Washington said. "Geno got a technical and I was in the face of the officials, too. It was hard to get into a flow. The game was so physical."
But it wasn't always out of Penn State's reach.
UConn, averaging just 7.5 turnovers, made 10 in the first half before going on a 12-4 run to take a 28-22 lead. The 28 points were their fewest in a half this season.
"The play was just moving too fast," Banks said. "It was all just moving too quickly for us."
Consider that UConn had trailed for only 17 seconds this season, following Charleston's basket that gave it a 2-0 lead on Nov. 11, until the Lady Lions pulled ahead 16-14 with 10:45 to play in the first half and then again, 18-16.
And, yes, that was Auriemma, his tie by then lowered into a loose noose, who kicked the Nike sign to the left of his bench and picked up a technical just 33 seconds into the second half.
You think Geno was worked up?
"We have some real issues in women's basketball," Auriemma said. "I didn't want to get thrown out; I had no intention of it. But I did threaten one official that I had every intention of being thrown out. But he said, 'No, you're not,' and walked away."
But eventually, foul trouble toppled the pieces on Penn State's board; three fouls gave Alex Bentley, Lucas, Mia Nickson and Talia East something to think about with 17 minutes still to play. And then Bentley picked up her fourth with 16:22 left.
The night started right with the return of Mosqueda-Lewis, who missed the second half of the Maryland win on Monday after bruising her left quad. Her condition continued to improve all week and she ended up starting.
"After I originally was injured, there was no way I thought I'd be able to play [Thursday]," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "My knee was hurting me so badly. It was so swollen. It was as hurt as I've ever been. But Rosie [athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle] just told me to listen to her and do everything she asked."
Mosqueda-Lewis also ended up scoring UConn's first five points, eight of its first 10 as the Huskies took a 10-3 lead.
And then Penn State emerged.
Tough and irascible, the Lady Lions worked back into the game incrementally until their star, Lucas, the junior guard, scored her first five points of the game within 23 seconds to give them the lead.
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