HARTFORD— Heading into their matchup with the Huskies, the Ohio State women’s basketball team boasted one of the best offenses in Division I, ranking fifth in the country with 90.5 points per game largely in part to All-American Kelsey Mitchell, one of the best scorers in the country.
After putting up just eight points in the Buckeyes’ 100-56 loss to UConn last season, Mitchell turned in a better performance this season thanks to an outstanding first half, but it was not enough as a strong third quarter from the Huskies on the backs of Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier pushed the Huskies to an 82-63 win to push UConn’s win streak to 85 games.
“We tried to be very conservative with what we did [on defense],” Auriemma said of guarding Mitchell. “I don’t think there’s ever one player that’s going to beat us by themselves. I could be wrong, but I’ll take my chances.”
Mitchell did her part to keep the No. 12-ranked Buckeyes (9-4) close with the Huskies, scoring 23 points on 9-24 shooting. Nineteen of her 23 points came in the first half, almost single-handedly responding to UConn’s early runs to keep Ohio State in striking distance. When the Huskies (10-0) went up 19-7 late in the opening period, Mitchell stepped up with seven points in just under two minutes, ending the first quarter emphatically with a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer.
As UConn pulled away with a 14-point lead after an old-fashioned three-point play from Collier, Mitchell answered once again, scoring the Buckeyes’ last eight points of the first half to cut the Huskies’ lead to six. Through the first 20 minutes, Mitchell led all scorers with 19 points, shot 50 percent (7-14) from the floor and looked nearly impossible to guard at times, taking and making difficult shots nearly at will.
“She’s impossible to guard, you saw that. There’s no shot she can’t take, won’t make,” Auriemma said of Mitchell. “When she gets a head of steam, forget it. You’re not going to be able to stop her.”
But after halftime, Mitchell wore down and the Huskies capitalized. Freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield, making just her second collegiate start, stepped up her game on the defensive end, and the Huskies frequently changed their looks on defense to make Mitchell uncomfortable. The changes worked, with Mitchell scoring just two third quarter points.
“They changed the defense a little bit, applied a little more pressure in the full court and made me give the ball up, which is fine. I think my teammates did a good job of trying to make plays,” Mitchell said.
While Mitchell struggled, Collier and Samuelson thrived, erupting for 15 and 10 third-quarter points respectively to power UConn’s 30-point third-quarter. With Mitchell unable to stay hot, the Ohio State offense sputtered, scoring just 14 points and shooting just 31.8 percent from the floor. The Buckeye’s cold streak gave the Huskies all they needed to pull ahead for good as they stretched their lead to a game-high 22 points
“We talked about it at halftime, the game was going to be won by what kind of offensive possessions we were going to have. Once we got Napheesa going and Lou was already going, it was fun to watch,” Auriemma said.
Samuelson had six of her 10 points on back-to-back possessions, hitting two 3-pointers to put the Huskies up 55-41 with 6:08 left in the third period. Collier would help UConn pull away a few minutes later, scoring the Huskies’ final six points of the period for a 70-48 lead. Samuelson would finish the day with 26 points with five made 3-pointers while Collier led all scorers with 27 points and 11 rebounds for the third double-double of her career.
Though Samuelson and Collier each had solid performances, it was Gabby Williams who once again stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and six steals. Williams has taken the added pressure of being one of the Huskies’ few front court players in stride, continuing to be a menace on the boards while implementing a newfound habit for dishing out assists. After having just 51 assists all of last season, Williams now has 50 this year in just 10 games.
After using only six players all game as senior guard Saniya Chong missed her second-straight game due to concussion-like symptoms, UConn experienced some struggles of their own, totaling only 12 points in the fourth quarter. While part of this stems from the Huskies’ slowing things down and dictating the tempo to preserve their lead, the lack of depth is still an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. But for now, Auriemma and his team are simply doing the best with what they’ve got.
“We just don’t have anything left. We’re trying to take the air out of it a little bit, give ourselves a little breather and milk the clock a little bit,” Auriemma said. “We’re maximizing what we have right now…We’ve beat some pretty good teams. We’ve taken advantage of what we have and tried to hide what we don’t have.”