After a week-long hiatus, the UConn women’s basketball team began another stretch of four games in nine days on a high note, and extended their winning streak to yet another milestone in their XL Center opener.
Thanks to a lengthy third-quarter run and stout defense down the stretch, the Huskies (5-0) were able to handle Chattanooga (3-4) by a score of 80-43 for their 80th-straight victory.
“We’re like everybody else now. Our guys play when they’re in the mood,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “So the second half, they felt like it. The first half, they didn’t feel like it.”
With UConn leading the Lady Mocs 43-31 to open the second half, Keiana Gilbert opened by scoring for Chattanooga with a jumper just 40 seconds in. From there on out, the third quarter belonged exclusively to the Huskies, who capitalized on an 8:21-long scoring drought from the Mocs to rattle off an 18-0 run.
Layups from Napheesa Collier, Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson made the run 10-0 in just over five minutes. UConn followed up with back-to-back 3-pointers from Molly Bent and Kia Nurse, and a jumper from Samuelson made it 18 unanswered points, helping the Huskies stretch their lead to 28 before Jasmine Joyner hit a jumper with 1:10 left to make it 61-35.
Much like it’s been already this season, sophomores Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson played key roles in the run to pull away from the Lady Mocs, scoring 10 of the 18 points during the stretch.
After Chattanooga shot nearly 43 percent in the first half and 33 percent from the 3-point line, the Lady Mocs struggled to get clean looks in the second half and were aggravated by the speed and length of the UConn defense. The Huskies held Chattanooga to 16.7 percent shooting from the field and just one 3-pointer in 16 second-half attempts for a total of 12 points. No Lady Mocs player reached double-figures, but Gilbert, Joyner, Queen Alford and Chelsey Shumpert each had nine points.
Collier finished the day with a game-high 23 points on 11-12 shooting from the floor, and helped dig the Huskies out of an early 5-0 deficit in the first quarter by scoring UConn’s first seven points.
“I think I’m just being a lot more aggressive and more confident than I was last year,” Collier said. “Last year really taught me I can’t played scared.”
While Collier had flashes of great offensive performance last season, the sophomore has improved tremendously this season simply by doing what she does best.
“She just has a knack, that’s the best way I can describe it,” Auriemma said of Collier. “When she gets the ball anywhere around the basket, she knows where the basket is…She’s going to do exactly what she has to do to get the shot up on the rim and score.”
With the Huskies trailing the Lady Mocs 14-11 more than halfway through the first quarter, a layup from Williams with 3:35 remaining put UConn ahead 15-13. They’d never look back after that, tacking on eight more unanswered points to lead 21-13.
Along with Collier, Williams also did her part in helping the Huskies survive their slow start, scoring nine of her 11 points in the first half. She also added 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals for the 11th double-double of her career.
“She has a great temperament out on the floor. She doesn’t get rushed, she doesn’t allow herself to get out of her comfort zone and she goes after every rebound,” Auriemma said of Williams.
Samuelson chipped in 18 points on 8-18 shooting, hitting just one 3-pointer and doing most of her damage from inside the arc for her second straight game. Junior Kia Nurse was the only other Husky in double figures with 12 points.
With Chattanooga behind them, UConn enters its hardest three-game stretch of the season as they take on No. 18 DePaul, No. 14 Texas and No. 1 Notre Dame. While this stretch will not be the first dose of adversity this young team has faced this season, it will certainly provide a challenge both physically and mentally.
“I think we will learn a lot about our toughness this next week because we play so many good teams. We’ll really have to push through and do all the little things right,” Collier said.