No. 1 UConn defeated Cincinnati 88-34 despite a surprising change to their starting lineup during their “Pink Game” as a part of the Play 4 Kay initiative.
On a special night, the Huskies (25-0, 14-0 American) found an extraordinary way to continue to dominate the American Athletic Conference in their win against the Bearcats (7-18, 3-11 American). This time, the Huskies brought three of the usual starters off the bench in exchange for reserve players, but they were still able to secure their 62nd straight victory.
“It is something that we have been talking about for the last couple of weeks,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We need to get some of these guys more of an ownership into what is going on. I think if you are not careful, if you have three dominant players like we do there is a tendency for kids to just kind of defer all the time.”
Starting lineup shake-up
The Huskies started the usual Kia Nurse and Katie Lou Samuelson but inserted reserves Napheesa Collier, Saniya Chong and Natalie Butler into the lineup. This is a lineup combination that would usually be seen on the court together toward the ends of games when a victory had already been secured.
Instead, Auriemma decided to shake things up to expose his reserve players to a new experience.
“What we tried to do is say, ‘OK, lets see if we change the environment that we put you in and see how you do,’” Auriemma said.
The lineup found success on the court together in the early going as they jumped out to an 11-5 lead. Samuelson had five early points and Butler had four points and four rebounds that helped to build the lead after the first three minutes.
Everything was not perfect for the Huskies, however. Cincinnati responded after a timeout and was able to eventually tie the game at 15 thanks to an 8-0 run. At that point, Auriemma saw enough and made a switch with 3:30 to go in the quarter. Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck, Gabby Williams and Courtney Ekmark entered the game.
After that point the Huskies took over ending the half outscoring Cincinnati 30-10 to carry a comfortable 45-25 lead into the break.
Butler certainly took advantage of the increase playing time as she finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes.
“It was great to have the opportunity to start,” Butler said. “I think it showed a lot of what we need to work on as a group and what I need to work on personally. The first half was rough, especially defensively, but I think we came back in the second half and did a much better job.”
The usual starting lineup of Jefferson, Nurse, Samuelson, Stewart and Tuck began the second half.
Because of the starting lineup change the Huskies finished with 46 bench points compared to Cincinnati’s four points off the bench.
Sharing is caring
The Huskies have been playing great offensively this entire season and the secret to their success may be how well they share the basketball. The Huskies entered the game averaging 21.9 assists per game as a team, which leads the nation.
Against Cincinnati, UConn once again shared the balled effectively, registering 23 assists on 39 made field goals. That great passing leads to great shot selection as the Huskies even went on a stretch in the third quarter where they made nine straight field goals in a row.
UConn also took advantage of Cincinnati’s turnovers. The Huskies forced 22 turnovers and turned those turnovers into 34 points.
Spencer Mayfield is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.