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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Stifling defensive effort leads UConn past Nebraska

There were plenty of impressive offensive numbers to chew on in UConn's 84-41 win over Nebraska on Wednesday night.
 
Katie Lou Samuelson had 23 points including three more 3-pointers, Kia Nurse also had three treys en route to 20 points, Napheesa Collier had career highs with 15 rebounds and eight offensive rebounds and Gabby Williams had a much bigger impact than her final line of 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals might indicate.
 
Here are a couple of other stats of note. Nebraska's leading scorer Jessica Shepard came into the game averaging 19.4 points per game but she was 1 of 13 from the field as she scored a season low three points. UConn had as many steals as Nebraska had field goals.
 
"She is a great player so to see her miss the shots that she did was surprising but I am happy that we played such good defense today," said Collier, who was a teammate of Shepard’s on the United States team which won the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women.

Williams gives up five inches to Shepard but after winning the opening tip, she pestered Shepard into missing her first five shots of the game. Natalie Butler came into the game and also helped fluster the high-scoring Shepard.

"Gabby gives up a lot of size in the post and she has to make up for it with her quickness, her athletic ability and being smart about what she is trying to do," Auriemma said. "I thought that first quarter she set the tone. When Gabby is playing defense like that, we get a chance to get out a lot (in transition) at times and get some easy buckets. That is the key for any good team, how many easy baskets can you get? We didn’t give them a lot of ones and we got a lot of easy ones. That is a big part of it.

UConn received solid performances off the bench from Natalie Butler, who finished with four points, six rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes while senior guard Saniya Chong returned to the court after missing two games with a concussion suffered in the second half of a Dec. 7 win at Notre Dame and ended up with eight points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and no turnovers in 28 minutes.

"I thought in the first half Natalie gave us some good minutes, she is big enough that she can help us against some of the post players we were facing," Auriemma said. "I think Saniya was anxious to play. She hasn’t played in a while, she hasn’t practiced and was really anxious and she made an impact on the game. With Saniya it has never been an issue of can she impact the game, can she keep having an impact on the team. We’ll go from there when we get back."

If there was a negative in the game it came when Auriemma opted not to play freshman Crystal Dangerfield in the second half. Chong started the second half while Molly Bent was the first reserve off the bench in the third quarter. In the second half Chong played 18 minutes, Bent was out there for 17 minutes, Butler and Kyla Irwin combined for 28 minutes and Tierney Lawlor was on the court for the final 3:18.

Auriemma said he wants to see Dangerfield play with more of a sense of urgency and see a higher work rate from her.

"I am going to hold her to it and that is all there is to it," Auriemma said.. Your guess is as good as mine."

Dangerfield, who started for the third straight game, will have the support of her teammates who have dealt with being benched by the demanding Auriemma.

"She is definitely not the only one, I have been through it," Chong said. "The best players on the team have been through it. Coming back she has to have the mindset of ‘I have to work hard.’"

UConn’s 29th straight road game would be one shy of the NCAA Division I women’s basketball record based on the current NCAA record book as UConn won 30 in a row from 2007-10 as did Notre Dame from 2012-15 but UConn has reached out to the NCAA about a 34-game streak from 2001-04 which would be the Division I record.

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