ATLANTA — University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma wasn't feeling too good about the state of this season's Huskies even when they had their best player.
Now that Paige Bueckers is sidelined for up to two months with an injury, the veteran with 11 national championships is really feeling pessimistic.
Georgia Tech made No. 3 UConn look downright feeble in the final quarter Thursday night, pulling away for a 57-44 victory that showed just how tough it's 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 going to 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 the Yellow Jackets (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' previous such loss came against St. John's on Feb. 18, 2012. This also marked the first time since 2006 that UConn (5-2) has been held under 45 points in a game.
Lotta-Maj Lahtinen scored 15 points and Nerea Hermosa chipped in with 13 points to lead the 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 program 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 — a former Tennessee Lady Volunteers standout — 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."
The McCamish Pavilion crowd was the sixth largest in program 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."
The Jackets picked up their first win over a team ranked third or better since Jan. 22, 2009, when they defeated No. 2 North Carolina 66-62.
UConn, which averaged 74.5 points a game with Bueckers, missed its first nine shots of the final period, along with committing six turnovers. The Huskies 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 led UConn with 13 points but was just 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
"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."
Bueckers was injured in the final minute of Sunday's 73-54 victory over Notre Dame. She sustained 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.