HARTFORD - The UConn women’s basketball team saw live action on Wednesday night for the first time since its Final Four loss exactly seven months ago. The Huskies struggled at times, but came away with a convincing 82-37 victory over Division II Fort Hays State.
Fort Hays State kept the game relatively close over the opening six minutes, trailing 13-6 after two three-pointers from Kacey Kennett. But over the next five minutes, UConn went on a 19-0 run to take a 32-6 lead.
After settling in, the Huskies outscored the Tigers 48-12 in the paint and had a 17-2 advantage in fast break points. UConn also had 12 steals on the night, contributing to 26 points off turnovers.
“You’ve gotta take everything with a grain of salt,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We were playing a team that was overmatched at every position.”
Senior Kia Nurse was the game’s leading scorer with 19 points, but it was redshirt junior transfer Azurá Stevens who stole the show in her first game as a Husky. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Stevens had seven rebounds and four blocks while defending the paint. And the 6-foot-6 newcomer did that in just 16 minutes.
“We have a lot of scorers on the team, so I was just trying to focus on defense,” Stevens said. “It just felt great to finally play again. It was a long year sitting out.”
Stevens was equally impressive offensively, scoring 15 points in her limited playing time.
“(Stevens) is a force inside, you can just throw it up to her and she’ll score,” UConn junior Napheesa Collier said.
UConn’s two First Team All-Americans from last season, Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, looked good in their first action of the season. Collier went 7-10 from the field on her way to 15 points while also recording nine rebounds, four assists, four blocks and three steals. Samuelson struggled from three-point range, shooting 1-6, but shot 4-5 from inside the arc while playing a team-leading 31 minutes.
“You want to have (Samuelson) out there, because when she’s not out there, there’s not many shots going in,” Auriemma said. “(Samuelson) is better, that’s all I can say. She’s better now than she used to be.”
Samuelson left the game briefly in the first quarter with a minor injury but returned after a few minutes in the locker room.
Eleven Huskies entered the game for Auriemma, including all four members of the highly-touted freshmen class. Andra Espinoza-Hunter logged the most minutes of the freshmen with 14, followed by Megan Walker, Mikayla Coombs and Alexis Gordon.
Each of those eleven players entered the game for at least five minutes, with nine of them logging at least 10 minutes. Auriemma doesn’t expect that to be the case throughout the season.
“We’re going to have to do a good job at managing how many minutes everybody plays, but that doesn’t mean that 10 or nine players are going to play enough minutes to make everybody happy,” Auriemma said.
UConn will be back in action on Sunday afternoon for the second of their two-game exhibition slate. The Huskies take on Ashland from Gampel Pavilion on Nov. 5 at 1 p.m.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.