Just a few minutes into Wednesday night’s game, the UConn women had already forced four turnovers and gotten out to a 10-point lead.
They played smothering defense, amassing steals quickly and executing on offense with a precision they haven’t played with in awhile.
The Huskies’ 82-38 win over Cincinnati was in stark contrast to their recent games where they’ve struggled with ball movement and given up open shots. Against the Bearcats, playing a game inside Gampel Pavilion for the first time in almost two months, UConn looked like itself again.
“If defensively you can create some opportunities for yourself, I think it shows on the other end. The big thing is you really have to work hard to create those opportunities," coach Geno Auriemma said. "I think we were more aggressive defensively tonight than we have been in awhile, and because the ball went in the basket it allowed us to set up some things that we wanted to work on. I thought we did a lot of really good things tonight, and our defense started it all.”
UConn’s physicality on defense translated to plenty of points for the Huskies, especially in the first quarter. They scored 17 unanswered before Cincinnati hit back-to-back 3-pointers six minutes into the game. UConn’s offense was back to being the dominant force it has become known for, with four players scoring in double digits.
Senior Katie Lou Samuelson led the way with a double-double, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Crystal Dangerfield also recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists, while Christyn Williams scored 19 points. Napheesa Collier ended the night with 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Megan Walker had eight points and eight rebounds.
Williams, who hasn’t played up to her usual standards the past two games, said she spent a lot of time in the gym working to get her shot back. The result was Williams making six of her first seven shots against Cincinnati, and going 3-for-6 from behind the arc. Between the extra practice and the welcome atmosphere of Gampel, Williams said she felt more comfortable.
“When my shot is off I tend to not shoot anymore, so I don’t need to do that anymore,” Williams said. “It’s something I’m working on. Again, staying aggressive if my shot is off and go offensive rebound or get steals on the defensive end so I can stay engaged and potentially get my shot on.”
The Huskies have been away for awhile. Their last game at Gampel was the Nov. 11 home-opener vs. Ohio State, and their last game in Connecticut was Dec. 8 vs. Seton Hall at the XL Center.
Williams led the way in the first half for UConn, and the lead that was built in the opening minutes was easily sustained throughout the night. With such a large lead, they were able to play every one of their bench players at some point. Batouly Camara led the bench in scoring with five points.
Getting bench players involved in games like Wednesday’s is important for the Huskies moving forward, Auriemma said, because it gives them a chance to get experience. With limited options, UConn will need as many reserve players to develop as quickly as possible.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit trying to figure out where to go with that,” he said. “We’re kind of in a little bit of a conundrum, so to speak. We have guys that need to play, and I know that. And when they play, they don’t play the way I expect them to play. And then if I keep playing them they think that playing like that is OK. And then if I don’t play them then I’m not giving them an opportunity to get better. It’s a fine line I’m trying to figure out.”
Three UConn players make Wooden Award midseason top 25
Prior to UConn’s game Wednesday night it was announced Samuelson, Collier and Dangerfield all made the midseason top 25 for the Wooden Award. UConn and Notre Dame have the most players on the list, with each program boasting three nominees. The Fighting Irish players who made the list are Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard and Jackie Young.
The list will eventually be narrowed down to 20 before being cut to 15 finalists right before the NCAA Tournament. The winner will be announced April 12 at the College Basketball Awards.
Sue Bird in attendance
UConn and WNBA legend Sue Bird was in attendance for the Huskies game against Cincinnati, watching her former team from the sidelines. She helped honor military veterans during a halftime presentation.
Bird, who just won her third WNBA title with the Seattle Storm, chose not to play overseas this year. Instead, she accepted a job as a basketball operations associate for the Denver Nuggets.