The UConn women’s basketball team completed its perfect regular season Monday night, capping it off with an 82-53 win over No. 20 USF. Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse were honored in Senior Night festivities before the game, including Williams’ induction into the Huskies of honor.
UConn (29-0, 16-0 the American) started off relatively slow after the Senior Night ceremonies came to a close. Williams scored the Huskies’ first five points, but they led just 10-8 with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter.
At that point, Azurá Stevens made her first appearance in the game and the Huskies immediately broke the game open with a 13-0 run over the next two minutes. UConn took a 29-12 lead into the second quarter as Katie Lou Samuelson scored 11 of her 14 points in the opening quarter and Williams added 10.
“As usual, our defense is what kind of broke it (open) for us,” Nurse said. “We got some steals, got some tips and then we got some defensive rebounds and just pushed up in transition and that’s where we become a deadly matchup.”
Stevens couldn’t be stopped in the lane Monday night, scoring a game-high 21 points in just 18 minutes while adding six rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Stevens has struggled from the 3-point line this season, shooting just 8-48 (16.7 percent), but the first-year Husky has made tremendous strides in finding her role.
“(Shooting from the perimeter) is all she’s ever had…” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s starting to do so many other things that our team needed. Tonight, you got a chance to see a bunch of those things, on both ends of the floor. Somebody like that could be the difference between playing the last weekend and not playing the last weekend.”
Williams and Nurse also gave their families plenty to cheer about in the final home game of the regular season. As a newly-inducted Husky of Honor, Williams finished the game with 18 points on 7-11 shooting and added nine assists and three steals. Nurse contributed 10 points, including two for two from the three point line.
“It was incredible,” Nurse said of her Senior Night experience. “It’s a great atmosphere to be a part of. So fortunate to be a part of a program who does things like this to celebrate the four years and the journey that Gabby and I have been on. It’s all the better when you get to do it with your best friend, somebody that’s been by your side through it all that you’re extremely proud of.”
USF (24-6, 13-3 the American) was essentially left for dead after a rough ending to the first quarter, but the No. 19 Bulls showed they can compete with the top-ranked Huskies. After finding themselves down 17 points in the first, the Bulls were only outscored by 12 points for the remainder of the game.
As UConn’s best competition in the American Athletic Conference, the Bulls likely have the best shot at dethroning the Huskies next week in the American Championship. USF has lost its two meetings with UConn this year by a combined 80 points, but the final three quarters Monday night could give the Bulls some confidence in a possible championship game.
The win put the finishing touch on the 10th perfect regular season in UConn program history. For a program that prides itself on accolades earned in March, Auriemma still appreciates the feat that this year’s team has accomplished.
“It’s one of those things where it really doesn’t register until after,” Auriemma said. “Then after, you look back and you go, ‘I can’t believe we did that again, you know how hard that is to do once?’”
UConn will now turn its attention to the American Championship, which it has won every year since the conference’s inception. The Huskies will begin their quest for their fifth consecutive conference title on Sunday evening.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.