Women's Basketball: Huskies dominate in XL Center finale

Gabby Williams maneuvers through the Owls' defense on Sunday (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

The UConn women’s basketball team kept its perfect season in tact with a 106-45 victory over Temple Sunday afternoon in Hartford. In the Huskies’ final game at the XL Center this season, they shot 61.2 percent from the field on the way to a dominant win before a crowd of 13,110.

UConn (26-0, 13-0 the American) scored on its first possession and never looked back, winning each quarter by at least nine points. The Huskies began the game on a 15-3 run and led 32-13 after the first quarter.

Temple (10-16, 2-11 the American) was held to 15-63 (23.8 percent) from the field and forced into 17 turnovers. The Huskies scored 29 points off of those turnovers, relying on their defense to lead to offense.

“Our defense is what gets our offense going,” UConn junior Katie Lou Samuelson said. “When we’re playing our best offensively… the reason we’re playing that way is because of our defense.”

Samuelson led the Huskies with 27 points in 26 minutes, the junior’s third consecutive game with at least 20 points. Samuelson shot 9-11 from the field, including 4-5 from the 3-point line, and also added five assists.

“I feel like I’ve been taking good shots for me, not forcing things,” Samuelson said. “I think I’ve been just playing in the game and that’s where the shots come from. I’m not too focused on scoring, but it seems like it comes more when I’m just trying to be all over the court and not stop moving.”

Six Huskies scored in double figures on the afternoon and seven Huskies dished out at least three assists. Of the team’s 41 field goals Sunday, 31 were assisted.

It was the last game at the XL Center for seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams. Nurse went 4-7 from the 3-point line on her way to 16 points while Williams scored 10 points, including eight in the first quarter, and grabbed eight rebounds along with five assists.

“They’re both in a pretty good place right now,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said of his two seniors. “They’re looking forward to how (the season) is going to play out, what’s going to happen. They want to make sure, obviously, that it goes well… Those two have had tremendous success here, individually and with our team.”

Williams also played a big role on the defensive end, helping to hold Temple star Tanaya Atkinson to just five points on 2-12 shooting. Before Sunday, Atkinson averaged 22 points per game this season, ranking ninth-best in Division I. The senior from New Haven, Conn. scored 15 when the Huskies visited the Owls in January.

“I wasn’t proud with how I played against her when we were at Temple, so I wanted to make sure I took a step up this game,” Williams said. “Just playing good team defense on her, making sure she got no easy looks.”

The UConn bench has been a source of frustration for Auriemma all season, but it performed well Sunday afternoon. Azurá Stevens and Megan Walker each scored double digits in limited playing time, as Stevens grabbed eight rebounds in 15 minutes while Walker recorded six rebounds in 18 minutes.

Beyond the bench’s two biggest contributors, Batouly Camara and Kyla Irwin scored eight and seven points, respectively, as the Huskies’ second unit played nearly the entire fourth quarter. UConn is occasionally outscored in the fourth when Auriemma turns to his bench, but the Huskies won the final quarter 25-10.

“I think we know what we have in our starting five… This is one of the few times where we really played well as a unit, that second group,” Auriemma said. “It’s good because the kids come to practice every day, they work really hard and we want them to have some confidence and have some fun playing the game.”

The Huskies will move forward to a matchup with Tulane Wednesday night in New Orleans to begin their final road trip of the regular season.

Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.