UNCASVILLE – UConn women’s basketball fans piled into a nearly sold out Mohegan Sun Arena Tuesday night to see head coach Geno Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey earn career-win No. 1,000 in the Naismith Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase against the Oklahoma Sooners.
The fans would not be disappointed as the No. 1 Huskies (9-0) eventually put away the Sooners (5-6) by a score of 88-64 in a typical ruthless manner, something UConn had done 999 times prior over the last 33 years under Geno Auriemma.
The Huskies’ offense came from the usual array of suspects, as four players finished in double digits. Guards Kia Nurse and Katie Lou Samuelson finished with 17 and 19 points, respectively, while forwards Azurá Stevens and Napheesa Collier scored 20 and 21 points, respectively. It was another display of offensive balance that people have come to expect from UConn under Auriemma.
Stevens, in particular, was impressive throughout the game Tuesday night, finishing 8-10 from the field and tacking on eight rebounds and four assists. At one point, the redshirt junior hit a key 3-pointer, her first of the season, to give the Huskies a 69-51 lead with 7:19 remaining in the game. The long-distance shot got Stevens fired up, along with the home crowd and took almost all the spirit out of the Sooners.
“It felt really good (to make that shot),” Stevens said. “I haven’t been making threes. The team’s been having confidence in me, which is nice, but it’s nice when it actually happens in a game.”
The Huskies stormed ahead from the get-go and came out of the first quarter with a 28-16 lead on the back of nine points on three 3-pointers from Samuelson. UConn extended its lead to 43-22 after Nurse hit a three with 4:14 remaining in the first half, but struggled to maintain their lead.
At one point, the Sooners cut the lead to single digits after an 8-0 run early in the third quarter made it 51-44 UConn. Auriemma took a rare timeout to let his players regain some composure, and the Huskies never looked back.
“(The timeout) was definitely just kind of about execution, and making sure we set screens,” Nurse said. “Then, making sure if a big guy is posting up…getting them the ball when they’re wide open.”
A nice series of plays at the end of the third quarter swung the momentum back in UConn’s favor heading into the final frame. First, Collier made a layup on a nice drive to the hoop after the team ran a play for what was expected to be the final bucket of the quarter. Immediately after, Samuelson stole the ensuing inbound pass and made the easy layup to give UConn four points in just a few seconds to close out the quarter with a 64-47 lead.
“To score at the end of the quarter is always what we want to do,” Nurse said. “But with Lou getting that steal, that’s an absolute momentum shift. And that’s something that you want as a dagger toward the other team.”
UConn’s next big run came a little bit later in the fourth quarter when the Huskies went on an 11-1 run in three minutes to stretch their lead to 85-59. Nurse hit one more dagger three late to put an exclamation point on the milestone night for Geno and the Huskies as the bench played out the last minute.
“It was time for us to go on our run, they went on their run,” Samuelson said. “We needed to just pick it up on both ends. After that, you could just tell and feel the difference, and you could see the difference on the court, too, in all of us. There was just that competitiveness.”
Geno and CD win No. 1,000
Coaches Auriemma and Dailey were honored after the game for reaching the 1,000-win mark in their storied careers. Auriemma and Dailey each received a plaque to commemorate the 1,000-win milestone, and a specially catered UConn basketball cake was brought out to celebrate.
“If you look back and you think about the significant accomplishments, not just in sports, but it’s always done in pairs,” Auriemma said. “It’s always been somebody doing something really memorable, but always with somebody else… and it’s been like that in our program.”
Auriemma was effusive in his praise of his long-time associate head coach, who he credits a great deal for the success of the women’s basketball program.
“I don’t think anything this difficult can be accomplished by one person, I don’t think so. And my title makes me responsible, makes me the recipient of all this, but there’s no way that we would be having this conversation right now if I had hired somebody different (than Chris Dailey),” Auriemma said. “And everybody that knows me, knows that. And everybody that doesn’t know me, she tells them that.”
Confetti showered the court as players from Auriemma’s first team joined the coaching staff and the current Huskies to celebrate the Hall-of-Fame coach’s success over the course of 33 seasons. Video footage from several of Auriemma’s greatest wins over the course of his career.
“(The celebration was) a little over the top, don’t ya think,” Auriemma said. “I think we coulda done without some of the stuff floating in the air… I think the people that got the most satisfaction out of that celebration were the players.
“The players that have played here, the teams that have played here, and this year’s players. They seemed to be the ones that were the most engaged and had the most fun. It meant a lot to them. We’ve always tried to make this thing all about our players and tonight was just another example of that,” he said.
Auriemma became the fourth women’s basketball coach in Division 1 history to reach the mark, joining Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell, who achieved the 1,000-win milestone earlier in the day.
“I think (1,000) is a number that is significant because so few people have been able to do that,” Auriemma said. “It’s funny, two in one day, so it can’t be that hard, right? There’s just so few opportunities to coach that many games, so you feel incredibly fortunate that you’re one of a very, very select few and they’re some of the great coaches that have ever coached.”
Next up, the Huskies head north of the border to take on Duquesne in Toronto, Ontario on Friday night, in what will be senior guard Kia Nurse’s homecoming game.