HARTFORD— Nearly four minutes into the first quarter, Houston did something no team has done against the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team in 2017 – take the lead.
The Cougars capitalized on an uncharacteristically slow start from the Huskies to take a 6-4 lead after a layup from Houston’s Chyanne Butler. Butler’s basket marked the first lead an opponent had over UConn in just over 439 minutes, when Kansas State jumped out to a quick lead in the first 11 seconds of the Huskies’ 75-58 win on Dec. 11.
“I’m not particularly thrilled with the way our ball movement was in that first quarter, and that probably why it was so different. We just didn’t get the ball movement or people movement that we normally get, and that’s a big reason why it looked the way it looked,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s surprising that in our program it doesn’t happen more often. This is probably a daily occurrence for most other programs…It happens so infrequently with us. What are you going do to about it?”
The win over Houston (8-13, 1-7 the American) put the Huskies’ NCAA-record win streak at 95 games and also marked the 10th time since the 1994-95 season that UConn has started a season 20-0. The Huskies won seven of their eight games in the month of January by at least 40 points, with the only exception being a 36-point rout of UCF on Jan. 1.
Shortly after Houston took the lead, UConn returned to form. The Cougars led for over a minute before a layup from Napheesa Collier made it 6-6. Collier’s basket would mark the start of a 13-0 UConn run to end the first quarter with a 17-6 lead.
After recording her first-career triple-double in the win over East Carolina, Gabby Williams turned in another stellar performance with 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes of work. Williams picked up right where she left off against the Pirates, scoring the Huskies’ first four points and scoring 14 points in the first half.
“When things aren’t going that great, we can always throw the ball to Gabby down low and she’ll make something happen. She’s always an energy giver,” UConn guard Kia Nurse said.
As both teams struggled to shoot from deep in the first quarter, Katie Lou Samuelson helped the Huskies get hot from the 3-point line in the second, hitting UConn’s first two 3-pointers of the night as part of an 11-point second quarter. The Huskies extended their 13-0 run from the end of the first period well into the second, scoring the first eight points to jump out to a 25-6 lead. Houston wouldn’t reach double-figures until more than 3:30 into the second quarter, when Jasmyne Harris scored five-straight points to stop the UConn run and make it 25-11.
“When things don’t start to fall for her, she always finds a way to come back with it. That was the second quarter when she made that run and that’s what we needed,” Nurse said of Samuelson.
Samuelson would finish the day with 16 points on 6-13 shooting, joining teammates Williams, Nurse (16 points), Collier (12) and Natalie Butler (10). Houston had two players in double figures with Harris scoring 14 points and Jacqueline Blake with 13.
Collier record her seventh double-double of her career despite only scoring two points in the first half thanks to a 10-point third quarter. The sophomore forward added 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists to complete a solid performance after starting the game just 1-4 from the field.
As the fourth quarter rolled around, the UConn bench saw their fair share of action, with Butler, Kyla Irwin and Molly Bent playing all 10 minutes. Irwin scored seven points on 3-4 shooting, while Bent hit a 3-pointer and added two assists and two steals. Bent saw 14 minutes of action in the victory, a number that may decrease as Auriemma announced that standout freshman Crystal Dangerfield is set to return from a stress reaction in her left foot in a limited role Wednesday against Temple.