HARTFORD – Witnessing history is not uncommon when you watch the UConn women’s basketball program.
Saturday afternoon was just another one of those days as the Huskies went to battle against the Wichita State Shockers for the first time ever, and didn’t exactly give their new conference member the warmest of welcomes.
Instead, UConn demolished Wichita State from start to finish, winning by a score of 124-43 on the back of a huge team performance in the Huskies’ Play4Kay game. UConn shot a magnificent 71.2 percent from the field, and even more impressively, nearly broke a long-standing program record for the most points scored in a single game.
Katie Lou Samuelson drained a three off the opening tip to get the Huskies racing out of the gates. UConn (24-0, 12-0 the American) then blitzed the Shockers early and often with high pressure on defense, forcing two turnovers to take a 7-0 lead in under a minute.
“I don’t know if it came out of the other day (a rough performance against UCF), maybe it did,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Maybe we just needed to recharge our batteries or something, but I think that the combination of our defense creating a lot of opportunities for us…and we shot the ball incredibly well and any time you make shots like that, it makes your offense look good. But a lot of it was off our defense.”
Wichita State (10-16, 5-7 the American) started making a few of shots over the next several minutes to keep themselves in the game. A mid-range jumper by Angiee Tompkins made it 15-6 in favor of UConn heading into a media timeout with 4:52 remaining.
What came next was a frightening display of ruthless power from the Huskies.
UConn’s defense ramped up its pressure to a new extreme, and forced Wichita State into turnover after turnover. The Huskies went on a 17-2 run, a run that included a stretch of 13 consecutive points in just under two minutes, and then went on a second run in which they outscored the Shockers 9-2 to head into the second quarter up 41-12.
“When you have somebody like Crystal, you can’t underestimate the impact that she has on your team because of what she can do with the ball in her hands,” Auriemma said. “She can go wherever she wants with it and she’s very creative…and she’s really smart and she can go places nobody else on our team can. The difference was evident right away. She set the tone, as did that whole group in the first quarter and it just carried over from there.”
The Huskies’ defense was relentless, but their style on the fastbreak was evident. Point guard Crystal Dangerfield, back in the lineup after a bout with shin splints, dropped a behind-the-back dime for fun. Gabby Williams, known for her full-court passing, launched passes that would leave Aaron Rodgers’ jaw on the floor.
Williams, who flirted with a quadruple-double at times Saturday, finished with 17 points on 8-9 shooting, along with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
The 41 points in the first quarter tied a program record for the most ever in a single quarter. Pretty impressive stuff for a school that’s done the unthinkable more times than you can count on two hands.
Unfortunately for the Shockers, UConn was not done there. Not in the slightest.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Samuelson extended the Huskies’ lead to 63-18 with 2:13 left in the second quarter, completing a 14-0 run that left Wichita State battered.
UConn entered the locker room with a halftime lead of 67-23, their best mark of the season. The 67-point half was just one point shy of the program record.
“There wasn’t really much of a drop off. We started a certain way and we sustained it pretty much the whole game, which is not always easy to do when you have a big lead like that,” Auriemma said. “I think once you get a big lead…I’m sure everybody on the other team is hoping that we start missing, and then we just kept making them and kept making them. And players that we were bringing off the bench added a lot. So, it just kept intensifying.”
The Huskies’ determination on this special day was not to be stopped. The offensive onslaught kept coming, the likes of Samuelson and Napheesa Collier kept scoring. Samuelson and Collier each finished their afternoons in the third quarter, but finished with a combined 48 points on 18-22 shooting in 53 minutes. Samuelson added a team-high nine assists on the afternoon, showcasing her ability to facilitate as well as score.
“It’s easy to take (Samuelson) for granted, but she’s had an amazing year and she’s not 100 percent healthy, but she’s had an amazing year,” Auriemma said. “I couldn’t be happier with her.”
UConn even powered on in the fourth quarter. With the starters resting, the Huskies defense still led to more offense. Like Nurse, Williams and Dangerfield before her, Molly Bent intercepted a Wichita State pass and took it all the way to the hoop to give UConn a 115-39 lead with 5:39 remaining in the game. Defensively, the fourth quarter was UConn’s best, allowing the Shockers to score just four points the last 10 minutes of the game.
“Today, (the bench players) were ready to play. They were ready yesterday and they were ready today,” Auriemma said. “And they played well, I was happy for them.”
The Huskies ultimately fell just shy of the program record for most points scored in a single game: 126 set against Providence on Jan. 6, 1998. This performance will still go down in the school history books as the second-highest points scored, and the second-largest margin of victory in school history, second only to a 97-point win over Quinnipiac on Dec. 27, 1998.
UConn’s 71.2 field goal percentage for the game will also go in the books, falling just shy of the program-best 72.6 mark set on Feb. 23, 2001 against St. John’s. Two missed shots in the last 3:09 of the game were the difference in that department.
Next up, UConn takes on the No. 4 Louisville Cardinals Monday at Gampel Pavilion in what will be its toughest remaining test this season prior to the NCAA Tournament.