Women’s Basketball: Huskies knock off undefeated UCF with big second half

 UConn forward Gabby Williams (15) looks to make a pass in the Huskies' 80-44 win over the UCF Knights on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. (Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

UConn forward Gabby Williams (15) looks to make a pass in the Huskies' 80-44 win over the UCF Knights on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. (Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

In a matchup of 3-0 teams in the American Athletic Conference, the UConn women’s basketball team used a big second half to blowout UCF. The Huskies struggled against the Knights’ physical defense in the first half, but eventually came together for a decisive 80-44 victory and their 100th consecutive regular-season win.

The beginning of the game was ugly for both teams, as a defensive slugfest resulted in a 6-5 UCF lead five minutes into the first quarter. UConn made just one of its first nine shots and UCF made three of its first 15.

“As you noticed in the first half, we are incapable of making a bucket when somebody touches us,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said of his team’s response to UCF’s physical defense. “We’re incapable of making a layup if there happens to be anybody else in the lane with us.”

UConn (14-0, 4-0 the American) finally found some success with a 14-0 run at the end the first quarter. In a five-minute burst fueled by two 3-pointers from Katie Lou Samuelson and three blocks by Napheesa Collier, the Huskies scored 14 consecutive points and took a 18-8 lead into the first break.

In the second quarter, it was more of the same ugly shooting from both teams. UConn shot 36.4 percent from the field in the first half while UCF managed to shoot 30 percent.

When the Huskies needed a spark, senior forward Gabby Williams stepped up to lead her team to pull away in the third quarter. Williams only had two points on 1-6 shooting in the first half, but she pulled down nine rebounds in the half. The senior stepped up to lead the Huskies on several fast breaks in the third quarter with stellar defense and running the floor.

“Gabby Williams single-handedly turned the game around in the second half,” Auriemma said.

Williams was the engine for the Huskies Tuesday night, and when Auriemma held his team in the locker room until 30 seconds before the second half, she knew somebody had to step up.

“I think everyone was a little caught up in the physicality, and shots weren’t falling so I was trying to show that we can do more than just knock down shots and I just tried to turn things up on the defensive end,” Williams said.

UCF (11-6, 3-1 the American) was held to 32.8 percent shooting on the night and the Knights were forced into 19 turnovers that led to 26 points for UConn. UCF’s leading scorer, Aliyah Gregory, scored just four points on 2-7 shooting whereas Korneila Wright paced the Knights with 17 points.

At the offensive end of the floor, Azurá Stevens was the Huskies’ leading scorer with 19 points. Stevens was incredibly efficient, shooting 9-10 from inside the 3-point line and managing to score all her points in just 18 minutes off the bench. Stevens added 10 rebounds to record her fourth double-double of the season.

“If any of us has a really good night, you have to credit it to our teammates,” Stevens said. “We have some of the best players in the country on the offensive end and if someone’s feeling hot one night, they’re going to pass the ball to that person. So there’s not that sense of ‘every man for themselves’ on this team, which makes it really easy to score a lot of points if you’re shooting the ball well.”

UConn will now head south to take on Houston Saturday afternoon. The Cougars are in the midst of a breakout season and are tied with the Huskies at the top of the American standings.


Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.