Inês Bettencourt's "baptism by fire" helps freshman play unlikely hero for UConn against Princeton
Bettencourt hit three free throws in the final 20 seconds to help the Huskies secure the victory.
Of all the potential candidates on UConn’s roster to shoot the most important free throws of the season, Inês Bettencourt was the least likely.
For starters, she wasn’t even part of the Huskies’ initial plans this season. UConn only discovered her after Paige Bueckers tore her ACL when it scrambled to add another body to the backcourt. The Sao Miguel, Portugal native committed just nine days before the start of the fall semester, flipping to the Huskies from Northwest Florida, a junior college.
Coming into Thursday’s game, Bettencourt had only played 21 minutes — 12 of which came in UConn’s blowout win over Providence on Dec. 2 and all of which were well after the game been decided. She only just scored her first points against the Friars and hadn’t even attempted a free throw.
Yet Bettencourt found herself at the line twice in the final seconds against Princeton.
She wasn’t just trying to help UConn to any win, either. After the team fell at Notre Dame on Sunday, the Huskies were staring down the possibility of back-to-back losses for the first time since March 1993 — 11 and a half years before Bettencourt was even born.
Not only was there the pressure to extend the program’s most impressive streak, Bettencourt also needed to do it on the biggest stage of her life so far. Before arriving at UConn, the largest crowd she’d even played in front of came at the European Championships. Bettencourt estimated there were 200 people in the stands.
“It was not a lot,” she said.
Earlier in the season during the Huskies’ first trip to the XL Center, associate head coach Chris Dailey had all the players guess the capacity of the arena. Bettencourt threw out the highest number.
“Inês looks around, CD says, ‘What's your guess?’ She goes, ‘50,000.’ Legit. That was her answer,” Auriemma said. “50,000. It's the biggest building she's ever seen in her life.”
It wasn’t quite 50,000 on Thursday night at Gampel Pavilion, but Bettencourt still had to shoot the most pressure-packed free throws of her career in front of 8,731 fans.
The freshman was truly the most unlikely candidate to step to the line in the final moments.