HARTFORD— As UConn fans poured into the XL Center to watch the No. 1-ranked Huskies take on East Carolina, one particular trend emerged. A fair share of the Hartford crowd wore shirts celebrating the program’s historic 89th-straight win from over seven years ago, when UConn broke the UCLA men’s basketball win streak of 88 games with a 93-62 blowout of Florida State at the XL Center. A seemingly unbreakable record was broken, and after that win, celebration ensued, t-shirts were made and the Huskies eventually stretched the streak to 90 games.
It wasn’t a coincidence that these shirts were once again out in the wild. This year’s team entered the matchup with East Carolina on an equally impressive streak of their own. A win over the Pirates would give UConn a chance to once again post an 89-game winning streak.
The Huskies did just that on Wednesday, making quick work of ECU and rolling to a 90-45 victory to once again reach 89-straight wins, albeit with much less fanfare, in Hartford. Nonetheless, head coach Geno Auriemma was impressed with his team’s latest historic achievement.
“I just want them to enjoy this, because it’s once-in-a-lifetime - well, at least I thought it was once-in-a-lifetime- for them,” Auriemma said of the streak. “They’ve already done something by winning tonight that people thought would be impossible to do, and this has happened twice now. I don’t even know what to say. No matter what you say, it doesn’t do it justice.”
Sitting at 89 wins means the Huskies need two more wins to break their own record for the longest winning streak in the history of collegiate basketball. UConn will take on No. 22 USF at the XL Center next Tuesday, and if the Huskies beat the Bulls, can break the record on the road against SMU on Jan. 14.
UConn wasted no time putting the Pirates away, jumping out to an 11-0 lead in the first three minutes with a slew of easy fast-break layups. After one free throw from ECU’s Raven Johnson put the Pirates on the board with 6:42 left in the first quarter, East Carolina would go nearly two and a half minutes longer before a layup from Johnson gave the Pirates their first field goal of the night. All the while, the Huskies kept outrunning ECU for easy layups and open shots, leading by as much as 19 after three-straight layups from Gabby Williams before finishing the period with a 28-10 lead.
“That would have been amazing regardless of who we are playing against. That was an incredible run at the beginning,” Auriemma said.
Williams turned in yet another stat-stuffing performance, scoring 10 of her 16 points in the first quarter and adding six rebounds, five assists and three steals. The junior forward used her speed and athleticism to her advantage once again to get out ahead of ECU for easy layups and assists for her teammates.
“It was fun. Everything was flowing right, everyone was running hard, everyone was working hard. We had a gameplan and we executed,” Williams said.
Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier also stayed true to form, scoring 15 and 21 points respectively in the victory. After Samuelson drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put UConn up 43-15 with 2:08 left in the second quarter, the trio of Samuelson, Collier and Williams all had at least 10 points before the end of the first half.
As the lead to grow in the third quarter, Auriemma tried to get his bench more involved in the second half. While Crystal Dangerfield, Molly Bent, Kyla Irwin and Natalie Butler led the Huskies in second-half minutes, the four combined for just 17 points. Butler’s layup with just minutes left in the third quarter served as the first bench points of the night for UConn. Butler add hit two free throws in the third and finished with 12 points to lead all bench players.
UConn finished the game primarily with Dangerfield, Bent, Irwin and Butler on the floor and outscored ECU 19-17. Eight of those 17 points for the Pirates came from Fanni Csutoras, who hit two 3-pointers and a jump shot in her only eight minutes of the night. Graduate transfer Kristen Gaffney led ECU with 12 points and Khadidja Toure matched Csutoras with eight points. Dangerfield capped the night with a layup in the final seconds to make it a 45-point victory, tying their second largest margin of victory this season.
The win not only made it 89-straight for UConn, but also put the Huskies 300 games over .500 (312-12) since 2008. In that span, UConn owns the record 90-game win streak, the current 89-game streak and six national championships.
“We don’t lose to teams that are not as good as we are. We don’t show up and go through the motions and mail it in and have an upset,” Auriemma said. “We, up to this point, manage to avoid that. Don’t ask me how.”