UConn rises to the occasion on historic evening
The 102-37 win over South Florida was the largest margin of victory in program history against a team ranked in the Associated Press poll and that final score makes it sound closer than it actually was.
The Huskies put up 30 points in the first quarter and 35 in the second en route to tying its own NCAA Division I record with its 90th win in a row. I can't even imagine what the final score would have been if the dynamic quartet of Gabby Williams, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier had played the fourth quarter.
"We played an amazing game of basketball, we played the kind of game that coaches aspire for their players to play at both ends of the floor," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "There was just a lot of stuff going on there today that you got to shake your head. That is what I am happy about, that is what I am smiling about. It has nothing to do 90, I could care less about that."
Auriemma was almost apologetic to USF coach Jose Fernandez, somebody he has tremendous respect for, following the game.
"I said I don't know where this came from, it has nothing to do with you guys, it is no reflection on you guys but when we play like this, we shoot the ball like that, play defense like that, I don't think it would have mattered who we were playing tonight," Auriemma said.
Where do I start.
Gabby Williams had six points, five rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots - in the first quarter alone. She had 11 points, 13 rebounds (nine on the offensive end), seven assists, three steals, four blocked shots and just one turnover in 21 minutes. She probably delivered the signature play in the third quarter when she dove on the floor for one of her steals and got the ball to a teammate before sliding out of bounds even though the Huskies were already more than comfortably ahead. Auriemma compared the impact she has on a game to how former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor used to singlehandedly disrupt opposing offenses.
Sophomores Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier had 19 and 18 points and they have become so reliable that neither of them were a subject of any of the questions asked of Auriemma after the game. Yes, their production is already kind of assumed.
I went back to the 1997-98 season and Samuelson ranks only behind Maya Moore (359 points in the 2010-11 season) and Nykesha Sales (304 points in '97-98) for the most points by a UConn player through the first 15 games of a season. Collier ranks fourth on that list with 289 points. Through 15 games, the only set of UConn teammates with more combined points than the 590 Collier and Samuelson have accounted for is the 593 put up by Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes during the 2010-11 season. Ironically, Moore and Hayes were the only players to appear in every game during the first of the Huskies' 90-game winning streak. Samuelson also has 50 3-pointers and I can't find a UConn player dating back to the 1997-98 season to accomplish that feat.
Kia Nurse, the only player who saw time in UConn's last loss and played in every game in the current streak, had 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists while helping to hold the American Athletic Conference's leading scorer Kitija Laksa to seven points on 3 of 15 shooting.
Then there was Saniya Chong. There will be much more of her in my second-day story off the game but I would say that I never have seen her look as comfortable and confident for an entire game as I did today. The result was Chong tying her career highs with 20 points and eight assists.
Natalie Butler contributed 10 points and four rebounds off the bench as Auriemma said it was her best game at UConn.
If there was a negative it was that Auriemma announced that freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield was being shut down for the next couple of weeks to rest a sore foot.
"Crystal is not playing for the next two weeks, she has a thing in her foot that we have to keep an eye on," Auriemma said. "Today was going to be her last game for a while if it didn't respond the way we wanted it to. It was more of a precautionary thing but I think maybe she knew 'I am not going to be playing for a while' because she went out and played today."
When UConn beat UCF for win No. 89 in a row, there was not one question in the post-game press conference asked about the winning streak. Auriemma wasn't as fortunate today as at least half of the questions pertained to the streak. I asked him about how the No. 1 ranked team in college football (Alabama) and men's basketball (Baylor) have lost in the last two days and yet the Huskies roll on.
"Not to minimize any of this but we just try to play really hard every night, we try to play with a lot of energy every night," Auriemma said. "We have players who have bought into over the years that this is the way we are going to play, this is the way we play at Connecticut. This doesn't mean we are going to win every night, this doesn't mean we are going to make every shot or be perfect but this is how we are going to play and you are going to have to play great to beat us generally speaking."
Auriemma was also asked why this streak didn't generate the same amount of attention from the national media as the first 90-game streak when the Huskies moved by the Division I basketball record 88-game run of the UCLA men's basketball program in the 1970s.
"It is male/female," Auriemma said. "All the people coming out of the woodwork that we weren't UCLA, you are not John Wooden. We don't have any UCLA signs in our gym, I don't have anything in common with Coach Wooden so I never said that, nobody in our program ever said that but it became 'how dare you compare those two.' Now people can just ignore it because it is us trying to beat a UConn record. Perception is 'well ,of course, we are Connecticut and the competition sucks' so I hear all of it. Those players in the locker room they don't buy into any of that, they just know this is who we play and we play better than most people."