Led by five players scoring in double digits, No. 1 UConn powered past the Cincinnati Bearcats 88-34 at Gampel Pavilion Wednesday night.
Natalie Butler led the pack, recording a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in a season-high 22 minutes. Breanna Stewart was right behind her with 14 points and eight rebounds. She is now tied with Jamelle Elliot for fifth in UConn history with 1,054 rebounds.
UConn (25-0, 14-0 the American) has now won 62 straight games.
Head coach Geno Auriemma went with a new starting lineup to begin the game: Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier, Natalie Butler, Kia Nurse and Saniya Chong. His reason, he said, was that the younger players needed to be ready to step up once the three seniors leave.
“There’s a tendency for our kids to defer all the time and say, ‘Yeah, by the time I come in, we’ll already be up by 25, so I don’t have to worry,’” Auriemma said. “So what we tried to do is say OK, let’s see if we can change the environment we put you in and see how you do.”
The young starting five did, more or less, exactly what was expected. There wasn’t a problem when it came to scoring, but the defense struggled, especially behind the arc.
After allowing Cincinnati to open up the game with a 3-pointer, UConn scored seven straight to take a 7-3 lead, powered by Natalie Butler’s four rebounds. Cincinnati then went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 15 with 3:26 left to go in the first quarter, including going 3-for-3 from three-point range.
The Huskies then switched their entire platoon. Brianna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, Gabby Williams, Moriah Jefferson and Courtney Ekmark all came off the bench to replace the starting five.
The game slowly shifted in favor of UConn as they began to draw fouls. Stewart and Tuck went 3-for-4 at the line and Williams added four field goals to put the Huskies up 25-19 at the end of the first.
The Huskies then began to raise their game in the second quarter in dominant defensive fashion: they went on a 20-6 run to balloon their lead to 45-25 at the end of the half. Stewart and Jefferson both recorded seven points, two assists and one block.
Though the scoring was lackluster throughout the first half, Cincinnati head coach and former UConn star Jamelle Elliot still sang high praises for both Stewart and Jefferson’s game.
“I think [Stewart] is a matchup nightmare. When guards guard her, she’s able to post up inside. … She’s able to take them outside and go off the bounce and hit the pull-up jump shot,” Elliot said. “But my true favorite is Moriah. I really appreciate that effort that she puts forward whenever she’s on the floor. … I enjoy watching that.”
The game was slow paced, and both teams looked rather lethargic throughout the entire first half. But, true to form, UConn began to explode in the second quarter and beyond to put the game far out of reach.
Stewart, Tuck, Nurse, Samuelson and Jefferson started the second half. The Huskies scored the first 20 points of the half and held Cincinnati scoreless for eight minutes to take a commanding 30-point lead.
They would end the quarter on a 10-5 run to take a 73-30 lead. The Huskies shot 14-for-16 overall, led by Stewart’s nine points and Jefferson’s six.
A very slow fourth quarter followed. Cincinnati showed only 1-for-11 the entire quarter, as opposed to UConn’s 7-for-15. The Huskies grabbed 14 total rebounds, six of them coming from Butler. UConn scored the last eight points of the quarter to make the final score 88-34.
Though the game started out with an unconventional lineup, the results were crucial to the Huskies going forward: It showed the younger players what they needed to work on and gave them the confidence and motivation to do so.
“It was great to have the opportunity to start,” Butler said. “The first half was rough, especially defensively. I think we came back in the second half and did a much better job. But I look at it as an opportunity to get better and it starts at our next practice.”
The Huskies are scheduled to embark on their final road trip of the year when they travel to East Carolina to take on the Pirates on Saturday. The game is set to begin at 8 p.m.
Stephanie Sheehan is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.