Eight ranked opponents up, eight ranked opponents down.
The UConn women’s basketball team has faced countless ranked opponents this season, as it has the last several years, in an attempt by Geno Auriemma to prepare the No. 1-ranked Huskies for the rigors of the NCAA tournament.
Thursday night was perhaps the biggest test of all in the 2017-18 season, as UConn took on the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks in a faceoff between the last two national champions at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.
Still, the Huskies (21-0, 9-0 the American) met the challenge with gusto and ran the Gamecocks (18-4, 7-2 SEC) out of their own building in yet another beatdown of a top-10 team, coming out victorious 83-58.
UConn burst out of the gates with an offensive explosion in the first half while its defense suffocated the South Carolina stars. The only Gamecock to shoot over 33 percent from the field was guard Bianca Jackson, who finished 8-11 from the field in a 20-point performance. Superstar forward A’ja Wilson was a monster on the boards for the Gamecocks but struggled immensely when it came to scoring efficiency.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward finished the game with 14 points on 4-18 shooting, along with 16 rebounds. Wilson ranked seventh in the nation with 23.1 points per game prior to the matchup with the Huskies, but the likes of Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier kept her in check all night long. Six of Wilson’s 14 points came from the free throw line in an ugly performance for the South Carolina superstar.
The key run of the game for UConn came in the second quarter, where the Huskies outscored the Gamecocks 29-8. The second frame started with a 13-0 run and allowed UConn to separate from the defending national champions, extending their road lead to 29 entering the locker room for halftime.
Senior guard Kia Nurse led the way for the Huskies with a game-high 23 points. The Hamilton, Ontario native started the game 4-4 from 3-point range in another display of proficiency from the highest-percentage 3-point scorer in the nation. Nurse finished 5-10 from beyond the arc and 7-16 from the field in 39 minutes.
Junior guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson tacked on 20 points of her own on 8-18 shooting (3-7 from three), and grabbed eight rebounds in 38 minutes on the floor. Sophomore point guard Crystal Dangerfield was one Husky with a particularly rough night, finishing with just three points on unusually bad 1-10 shooting.
The Gamecocks went on a consolation 12-0 run in the third quarter, which Samuelson ended with a 3-pointer to make it 62-38 in favor of the Huskies. The win officially reclaimed UConn’s dominance as the best team in the land, if it wasn’t already known.
Next up, the Huskies take on an American Athletic Conference opponent in the Cincinnati Bearcats (13-9, 5-4 the American) in a home tilt at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Bearcats are coming off two consecutive losses at home, including a horrific 50-38 loss to the UCF Knights on Tuesday. The struggle to score hasn’t always been that bad for Cincy this season, but the Bearcats rank 150th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 66.7 points per game as a team.
Cincinnati’s offense will come from any one of five players: Nikira Goings, Ana Owens, Iimar’i Thomas, Angel Rizor and Shanice Johnson. Each member of the quintet averages at least nine points per game, but none of the five averages more than 12. Goings leads the pack with an average of 11.8 points per contest on 41.8 percent shooting.
After those five players, however, Cincy won’t get much offensive production. No other Bearcat averages more than five points per game. If the Huskies can play up to their standards, a win would be a mighty task for Cincinnati.
The game will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon and will be broadcast on SNY.
Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball and football. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @realchrishanna.