HARTFORD—Coming off one of their finest defensive performances of the season in a 94-30 win over Tulsa on Wednesday, the UConn women’s basketball looked to put together another strong defensive effort in their final home game at the XL Center this season against Memphis.
Sure enough, the Huskies did just that against the Tigers, forcing a season-high 34 turnovers and holding Memphis to just 40 points in the Huskies’ 83-40 victory in Hartford.
“We want to create a faster pace for ourselves because I think that benefits us, and in order to do that you need to create a lot of possessions,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Since the first Memphis game, there’s been a huge uptick from where we were before the first Memphis game in what we’ve been able to accomplish defensively.”
UConn’s victory marked the sixth-straight game the Huskies (20-0, 10-0 the American) have won by at least 40 points, and the third consecutive game in which they have held their opponents to 40 points or less.
The win also marked the 23rd straight season the Huskies have won at least 20 games, and the 9th time UConn has opened a season 20-0 since the 1994-95 season.
The Huskies didn’t waste any time getting started, scoring right off the tip in under 10 seconds to take a 2-0 lead thanks to a layup from Katie Lou Samuelson. With 3:37 left in the first quarter, all five starters had scored as UConn jumped out to a 13-5 lead.
After holding the Tigers to eight points in the first quarter, UConn did so once again to take a 38-16 lead into halftime. Breanna Stewart led the way for the Huskies, scoring eight of her game-high 19 points in the second quarter. With her jumper with 3:44 left in the first half, Stewart reached double-figures in scoring for 117th time in her career, tying her with Tina Charles for the second most all-time.
“When you come out of high school and you have the kind of experiences she had coming out of high school, you know that that’s a possibility,” Auriemma said of Stewart’s slew of accomplishments.
Samuelson (13 points), Moriah Jefferson (11), Kia Nurse (10) and Natalie Butler (10) joined Stewart in double figures for the Huskies. Samuelson’s 13-point performance marked the sixth-straight game the highly touted freshman has scored in double figures, and is shooting 37.5 percent (6-16) from beyond the arc in her last two games.
“I’ve just gained more confidence having more games under my belt,” Samuelson said. “It’s definitely coming easier, and I feel better with my shot so I’m hitting more shots.”
With seven assists and two steals to go along with her 11 points, Jefferson became the ninth Husky in program history with three seasons of 100 assists and 50 steals. The senior guard finished the night with 559 career assists, tied with Bria Hartley for fifth all-time.
“Moriah really sets the tone for a lot of things that happen for us,” Auriemma said.
UConn ramped up their energy in the second half, holding the Tigers to 24 second-half points. After Ariel Hearn opened up scoring 2:50 into the second half for Memphis, the Tigers would go scoreless for nearly four minutes until a jumper by Mooriah Rowser with 3:26 left in the quarter.
Hearn, the Memphis’ leading scorer, would finish the night with just five points, her lowest total since a four-point performance against Cincinnati on Jan. 7. With no Tigers in double figures, Rowser led the team with eight points, and Brea Elmore chipped in six points and six rebounds.
With the win, the Huskies have completed their slate of home games at the XL Center for the season, and marked the final game in Hartford for Stewart and Jefferson. The senior class is now 28-2 at the XL Center, with their only two losses coming in their freshman season. After finishing their careers in-front of a season-high 12,047 in Hartford, the Huskies will round out their home schedule with five games at Gampel Pavilion.
“For the last one, I think it was a good one. It was a great crowd,” Auriemma said of the XL Center crowd. “But at the same time, I’m glad that we’re going back to Gampel now for a while. We need that. It’s our home court, it’s where we live.”