Women’s Basketball: Williams, Stevens spark Huskies to victory after first half lull

UConn forward Azurá Stevens goes up for a layup surrounded by three UCF defenders in the Huskies' 80-44 win over the Knights on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. (Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

UConn forward Azurá Stevens goes up for a layup surrounded by three UCF defenders in the Huskies' 80-44 win over the Knights on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. (Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

STORRS – The UConn women’s basketball team endured a putrid first half from the field in which it was tested physically by the UCF Knights.

With almost no energy in the first 20 minutes and several possessions ending with a look at the refs hoping for a call, the Huskies came out of the tunnel in the second half reinvigorated with a spark provided by Gabby Williams and Azurá Stevens to lead UConn to a dominating 80-44 victory over the Knights.

The Huskies struggled mightily with UCF’s physical style of play in the first half. The refs officiated the game with consistent no-calls for a lot of contact, but several of UConn’s players did not respond well to that.

“I think that some of the players on our team think it’s the officials job to help them be really good,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Because as you noticed in the first half, we are incapable of making a bucket when somebody touches us. We are incapable of making a layup if there happens to be anybody else in the lane with us.

“So once we got that crap cleared away at halftime, everything was pretty good,” Auriemma said.

Being up just 32-19 at the half, perhaps the Huskies’ worst half all season, Auriemma took the entire halftime break to dig into his players to get them to embrace the physical nature of the game and stop caring about the no-calls. UConn players walked out of the tunnel with just 23 seconds remaining before the start of the second half. The Huskies took over from there.

“Not everything’s gonna come easy and we have to learn that before we have to learn it the hard way,” Williams said after the game. “And I think today was good for us, to have a game that we didn’t win it in the first five minutes. It was a good test for us.”

Gabby Game-changer

A big part of the Huskies’ second half explosion was the play of Williams, UConn’s senior forward and arguably its emotional leader. Williams has been an integral part of the team for several years now, with her vision to make near-impossible passes, her energy on defense and her will to lead the team to victory. Tuesday night, she made the difference again by igniting the Huskies’ on both ends of the floor after a sluggish first half.

“(Williams) kinda got a little frustrated with herself and she said that she was gonna have our backs and proved that in the third quarter. She was everywhere on the court really,” Huskies’ point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “We have to have somebody to look to when things are going wrong…so it’s great to have that leadership out on the court.”

While Williams didn’t have a great first half scoring, she did an excellent job of cleaning up on the glass and facilitating the basketball, going into the locker room with nine rebounds and three assists. Then, she stepped out onto the court at the start of the third quarter and took over the game with her energy on defense, which unleashed the Huskies’ on the fastbreak.

“The game basically came down in the third quarter to Gabby Williams completely, single-handedly turn the game around,” Auriemma said. “The biggest difference from first half to second half was Gabby Williams, plain and simple.”

Offensively, Williams’ ability to drive to the hoop and dish the ball as a forward made her essentially unstoppable. Williams finished with eight points on 4-11 shooting, along with 13 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Those stats don’t look too special, but her playmaking ability is unparalleled in college basketball and goes beyond the stat sheet, as evidenced by her second-half performance.

Auriemma was effusive in his praise for Williams’ game-changing ability after the game.

“There isn’t a play that you draw up that Gabby runs that then says, ‘Ok, this will change the game,’” Auriemma said. “That’s not what great players do. Great players change the game by making great plays, not by taking something from the playbook and running it. (People ask me) ‘Well, what are you gonna do when she graduates?’ Well, I’ll have to come up with better plays.”

Stevens ignites Huskies’ offense, fizzles on defense

Another player with a big impact Tuesday night was Azurá Stevens, who finished with a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes. Stevens’ efficiency was unmatched as she finished 9-13 from the field, which includes three missed 3-pointers. When the redshirt junior transfer got it going in the post, she was unstoppable.

“I think my teammates just did a good job of finding me in good spots close to the basket,” Stevens said. “I had a couple threes, I didn’t make them, but it’s ok. They found me in other places and they just did a good job of that.”

While her offensive performance was fantastic, Stevens struggled on the defensive end, allowing several easy buckets with bad positioning under the hoop. At one point, she allowed six straight points that allowed the Knights to reach 40 points, something Auriemma had set as a goal to on defense to prevent.

“I think (defensively, I’ve struggled), just protecting the basket. There was a couple plays where I overran it and just made a stupid mistake and they were wide open underneath,” Stevens said. “Really just recognizing my role when I come into the game is to protect the rim and stay down low (will help me).”

The contrast between Stevens’ ability on the offensive end of the floor and the defensive end of the floor brought out a joke from Auriemma in the post-game press conference.

“Azurá plays both ends of the floor really, really well,” Auriemma said. “In the first half, she plays this end really, really well when we’re on offense. And in the second half, she plays that end when we’re on offense really, really well. So, she’s got both ends of the floor covered. Unfortunately, it’s never at the same time.

“We got the only 6-foot-6 kid that’s unguardable in college basketball, and we got the only 6-foot-6 kid in college basketball that can’t guard,” Auriemma continued. “Somebody once said nobody has it all. I do. God doesn’t give you everything. Yes he did. Gave me guy that can’t be guarded and don’t guard. Who could ask for more than that?”

Despite Auriemma’s jibe at her juxtaposing levels of talent on opposite ends of the court, Stevens says she knows she can fulfill the potential he sees in her.

“I’m just trying to find balance, like coach said, to have a good night on both ends of the floor – a complete and overall game,” Stevens said. “(Auriemma) knows my potential as a player on both offense and defense and so I take what he says and I try to do it as much as I can. I think it’s just a matter of finding that balance.”

Stevens will get her next chance at a complete and overall game on both ends of the floor on Saturday, Jan. 13 when the Huskies go on the road to take on the Houston Cougars, the only other remaining undefeated team in the American.

STORRS – The UConn women’s basketball team endured a putrid first half from the field in which it was tested physically by the UCF Knights.

With almost no energy in the first 20 minutes and several possessions ending with a look at the refs hoping for a call, the Huskies came out of the tunnel in the second half reinvigorated with a spark provided by Gabby Williams and Azurá Stevens to lead UConn to a dominating 80-44 victory over the Knights.

The Huskies struggled mightily with UCF’s physical style of play in the first half. The refs officiated the game with consistent no-calls for a lot of contact, but several of UConn’s players did not respond well to that.

“I think that some of the players on our team think it’s the officials job to help them be really good,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Because as you noticed in the first half, we are incapable of making a bucket when somebody touches us. We are incapable of making a layup if there happens to be anybody else in the lane with us.

“So once we got that crap cleared away at halftime, everything was pretty good,” Auriemma said.

Being up just 32-19 at the half, perhaps the Huskies’ worst half all season, Auriemma took the entire halftime break to dig into his players to get them to embrace the physical nature of the game and stop caring about the no-calls. UConn players walked out of the tunnel with just 23 seconds remaining before the start of the second half. The Huskies took over from there.

“Not everything’s gonna come easy and we have to learn that before we have to learn it the hard way,” Williams said after the game. “And I think today was good for us, to have a game that we didn’t win it in the first five minutes. It was a good test for us.”

Gabby Game-changer

A big part of the Huskies’ second half explosion was the play of Williams, UConn’s senior forward and arguably its emotional leader. Williams has been an integral part of the team for several years now, with her vision to make near-impossible passes, her energy on defense and her will to lead the team to victory. Tuesday night, she made the difference again by igniting the Huskies’ on both ends of the floor after a sluggish first half.

“(Williams) kinda got a little frustrated with herself and she said that she was gonna have our backs and proved that in the third quarter. She was everywhere on the court really,” Huskies’ point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “We have to have somebody to look to when things are going wrong…so it’s great to have that leadership out on the court.”

While Williams didn’t have a great first half scoring, she did an excellent job of cleaning up on the glass and facilitating the basketball, going into the locker room with nine rebounds and three assists. Then, she stepped out onto the court at the start of the third quarter and took over the game with her energy on defense, which unleashed the Huskies’ on the fastbreak.

“The game basically came down in the third quarter to Gabby Williams completely, single-handedly turn the game around,” Auriemma said. “The biggest difference from first half to second half was Gabby Williams, plain and simple.”

Offensively, Williams’ ability to drive to the hoop and dish the ball as a forward made her essentially unstoppable. Williams finished with eight points on 4-11 shooting, along with 13 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Those stats don’t look too special, but her playmaking ability is unparalleled in college basketball and goes beyond the stat sheet, as evidenced by her second-half performance.

Auriemma was effusive in his praise for Williams’ game-changing ability after the game.

“There isn’t a play that you draw up that Gabby runs that then says, ‘Ok, this will change the game,’” Auriemma said. “That’s not what great players do. Great players change the game by making great plays, not by taking something from the playbook and running it. (People ask me) ‘Well, what are you gonna do when she graduates?’ Well, I’ll have to come up with better plays.”

Stevens ignites Huskies’ offense, fizzles on defense

Another player with a big impact Tuesday night was Azurá Stevens, who finished with a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes. Stevens’ efficiency was unmatched as she finished 9-13 from the field, which includes three missed 3-pointers. When the redshirt junior transfer got it going in the post, she was unstoppable.

“I think my teammates just did a good job of finding me in good spots close to the basket,” Stevens said. “I had a couple threes, I didn’t make them, but it’s ok. They found me in other places and they just did a good job of that.”

While her offensive performance was fantastic, Stevens struggled on the defensive end, allowing several easy buckets with bad positioning under the hoop. At one point, she allowed six straight points that allowed the Knights to reach 40 points, something Auriemma had set as a goal to on defense to prevent.

“I think (defensively, I’ve struggled), just protecting the basket. There was a couple plays where I overran it and just made a stupid mistake and they were wide open underneath,” Stevens said. “Really just recognizing my role when I come into the game is to protect the rim and stay down low (will help me).”

The contrast between Stevens’ ability on the offensive end of the floor and the defensive end of the floor brought out a joke from Auriemma in the post-game press conference.

“Azurá plays both ends of the floor really, really well,” Auriemma said. “In the first half, she plays this end really, really well when we’re on offense. And in the second half, she plays that end when we’re on offense really, really well. So, she’s got both ends of the floor covered. Unfortunately, it’s never at the same time.

“We got the only 6-foot-6 kid that’s unguardable in college basketball, and we got the only 6-foot-6 kid in college basketball that can’t guard,” Auriemma continued. “Somebody once said nobody has it all. I do. God doesn’t give you everything. Yes he did. Gave me guy that can’t be guarded and don’t guard. Who could ask for more than that?”

Despite Auriemma’s jibe at her juxtaposing levels of talent on opposite ends of the court, Stevens says she knows she can fulfill the potential he sees in her.

“I’m just trying to find balance, like coach said, to have a good night on both ends of the floor – a complete and overall game,” Stevens said. “(Auriemma) knows my potential as a player on both offense and defense and so I take what he says and I try to do it as much as I can. I think it’s just a matter of finding that balance.”

Stevens will get her next chance at a complete and overall game on both ends of the floor on Saturday, Jan. 13 when the Huskies go on the road to take on the Houston Cougars, the only other remaining undefeated team in the American.


Christopher Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball and football. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishanna.