With Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson in the WNBA, the 2016-2017 Huskies had no problems filling the scoring void in their exhibition opener against Indiana University of Pennsylvania, as they won handily, 111-39. The new star-studded trio of junior Kia Nurse, sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson and junior Gabby Williams led the way with a combined 63 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists.
Williams was impressive throughout the game as she was able to lead the Huskies with nine rebounds, six assists, five steals and three blocks, while adding 22 points. Shooting 81.8 percent from the field and 4-7 from the line, Williams was an athletic force on both sides of the ball as her teammates were thoroughly impressed, including Kia Nurse, who said, “Gabby is the most athletic person I have ever played with or seen as she does things that are amazing, as it leaves you saying, oh wow.”
The Huskies looked the better team from the onset of the game, as they won the tip-off and Samuelson drove and hit a layup three seconds into the game. UConn jumped out to a 15-2 lead as every point was a layup, a bank shot from within three feet or a free throw. The starting five of senior Saniya Chong, Nurse, Samuelson, Williams and sophomore Napheesa Collier were dominant throughout the first quarter as the team shot 57 percent from the field and led 33-19.
Mirroring the first quarter, it did not take UConn long to open up the scoring, as Chong stole the ball off an IUP guard and raced out for a layup to restart the action. This was the story of the game for Chong, putting in a solid night by going 5-6 from the field with 11 points.
Head Coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with her performance.
“I think Saniya was really good, she has been like that since practice started… right now she’s in a really good place,” Auriemma said.
In the second quarter, the Huskies ran all over the Crimson Hawks, holding them to five points and finishing the quarter on a 19-0 run. IUP was held scoreless for the final seven minutes and was outscored by 30, as UConn finished the half outscoring IUP 48-6 in the paint, 32-0 off turnovers, 9-0 in second chance points and 27-3 in fast break opportunities.
After freshman Molly Bent made an appearance in the first quarter, fellow freshmen Kyla Irwin and highly-touted recruit Crystal Dangerfield entered the game in the second, scoring two from the line, and then, on her first fast break, registered a no-look assist to Collier. At the end of the first two quarters, UConn was leading 68-24, shooting 75 percent in the second quarter, while IUP was held to two field goals.
The third and fourth quarters featured less scoring from both teams as both benches saw an increase in minutes and production. In the third, IUP opened up in a zone, which forced the Huskies to run more offensive sets, which led to many UConn possessions and baskets. The Huskies came out on an 11-0 run, extending it to 30-0 before IUP guard Carolyn Appleby hit a three with 6:41 remaining in the quarter. Appleby shined for the Crimson Hawks as she scored 17 points and registered four assists on 6-15 shooting.
UConn finished the third quarter up 92-33. They held IUP to nine points in the quarter and without a basket for the final three minutes and 16 seconds. The Huskies were once again red hot from the field, shooting 66 percent in the quarter and going 2-4 from behind the arc.
The fourth quarter was lowest scoring for the Huskies, scoring only 19 points on 6-14 shooting. IUP was held to six points, scoring a combined 20 points in the final three quarters of play. Irwin impressed in the fourth quarter, where she scored ten points. Fellow freshmen, Bent and Dangerfield were able to score from the free throw line. Every UConn player earned minutes in the fourth. Even without the starting five playing the majority of the minutes, UConn was stout defensively, holding IUP without a bucket for final 4:16 of game.
Even after holding the Crimson Hawks to single digits in three quarters, Nurse knew they could do better.
“Defensively, there are a couple of things we can clean up in terms of keeping people in front of us, but I think we played a really good game on the offensive end, we got in transition and ran,” Nurse said.
Even though it was an exhibition game, the team excelled, as they won by 72 points and never trailed in the game.
With the departure of the star trio from last year, things are off to a good start. Gabby Williams summed it up best when she said, “There is a huge learning curve this year but I think we are playing together really well and we are pretty cohesive. Things are going pretty well so far.”
The Huskies second and final exhibition will be this Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford at 1 p.m. against Pace University.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org