HARTFORD— After narrowly defeating a feisty Tulane team on the road in New Orleans, UConn returned to form at the XL Center against the No. 23-ranked Temple Owls. The Huskies were dominant from start to finish in a 90-45 win that clinched the program’s fourth-straight American Athletic Conference regular season championship. The victory marked the 102nd-straight win for the Huskies and gave UConn a perfect 68-0 record in the American.
Coming off a scare against the Green Wave, the win over the Owls (21-6, 11-3 the American) showed the Huskies learned from their close call and were back to business as usual.
“It was a wake-up call,” Gabby Williams said of the Tulane game. “We kind of realized that we’re not necessarily talented enough to beat teams the way that we should, and what makes us great is how competitive we are, how hard we work, how we make those hustle plays. We just tried to get that back tonight.”
Napheesa Collier carried the Huskies (27-0, 14-0 the American) much like she did in the victory over the Green Wave, scoring a career-high 31 points on 13-14 shooting while adding 13 rebounds for the 12th double-double of her career. She got the Huskies going in the opening quarter, scoring 13 of UConn’s 23 points and making her first six shots to help the Huskies jump out to a 23-11 lead.
“[Collier] never takes a bad shot. She does not force shots or throw stuff up there with no intention of making it, she does not waste opportunities,” Auriemma said of his standout sophomore.
While Collier led the Huskies, Williams quietly put together another stellar performance, scoring 15 points and shooting a perfect 7-7 from the field while adding seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. With a jumper late in the third quarter, Williams became the 43rd Husky in program history to reach 1,000 career points.
“It was cool. I actually no idea that I was close,” Williams said. “It was pretty special.”
Collier stayed hot into the early second quarter, hitting UConn’s first 3-pointer of the night nearly two minutes into the period, as the Huskies took a 26-14 lead. From there on out, Katie Lou Samuelson took over, racking up 10 of her 19 points in the second and scoring UConn’s final five points of the first half to take a 41-19 lead at intermission.
Samuelson also made her mark on the defensive end, grabbing six of UConn’s 18 steals while playing an integral role in keeping Temple’s talented duo of guards Alliya Butts and Feyonda Fitzgerald in check. With Kia Nurse, UConn’s best defender, still sidelined with an ankle injury, the Huskies still managed to limit Butts’ and Fitzgerald’s impact. The tandem entered the matchup averaging just over 31 points a game combined, but mustered just 22 against the Huskies, 14 of which came in the second half when the game was all but over.
Donnaizha Fountain joined Butts (10 points) and Fitzgerald (12) in double-figures with 12 points adding three rebounds
“We did a great job on them. We really did,” Auriemma said of defending Butts and Fitzgerald. “Without Kia, we don’t have the same ability to do things defensively, so we changed it up and played them a little bit differently. A little more zone, a different kind of zone, switched it up a little bit. I thought we were really really good. That third quarter, I don’t think they could get a shot off.”
With Butts and Fitzgerald bottled up, the Temple offense struggled, scoring just four points in the paint and shooting only 27 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Huskies looked more like their usual selves, shooting 59 percent on the day and 70 percent in the second half. Starters Saniya Chong, Crystal Dangerfield, Collier, Samuelson and Williams played the entire third period, outscoring the Owls 24-16.
The Huskies would stretch the margin of victory to as many as 47 points in the fourth quarter before Takora McIntyre’s only points of the night made it 45 points. UConn has now won 13 of their 27 games this season by at least 40 points, but despite the dominance, Auriemma still thinks there is room for improvement.
“Look I don’t care if we’re 40-0 at the end of this season, I’ll never be convinced that this is working,” Auriemma said. “I see these guys every day and I just shake my head. They have a tendency to be really good when they have to be really good, and so far, up to this point, they’ve been really good when they needed to be really good.”