The last time the Huskies played the Knights, it was a thing of beauty at the XL Center. On Sunday afternoon on the road, it was a little bit different and it probably has to do with the physical or chippy nature of UCF.
“Every game is different. Every game is played differently,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said during the postgame press conference on SNY. “Some games, you know, it’s all run up and down and score 95 points and make it look easy. And some games you grind it out, kind of games. It’s nothing unusual when we play Central Florida. The games are always like this, you know, they are physical and you gotta make some tough plays and you can’t get caught up in some of the nonsense that happens either.”
A lot of that nonsense had to do with the way the Knights (20-5, 9-3 AAC) defended the Huskies (23-2, 11-0 AAC), especially Katie Lou Samuelson. UCF sent a message to Samuelson from the get-go: they were going to try to get away with as much as possible. The defenders were constantly hitting her in the face, shoving and even elbowing her in the ribs.
Midway through the third quarter, Kayla Thigpen shoved Samuelson, drawing a technical foul. Samuelson and Thigpen, who eventually fouled out, were jawing back and forth throughout the game. This was the first time in 122 games that Samuelson did not record a field goal, according to SNY. The senior was able to get to the foul line and score 12 points.
Prior to the game, Napheesa Collier, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds for her fourth double-double in the last five games, said that she tries to remain calm on the court to prevent the opposing team from getting under her skin. This trait certainly helped her lead the No. 4 Huskies to the 78-41 victory over UCF Sunday afternoon.
“That is what you’re trying to do to the other team. You’re trying to get them frazzled and frustrated,” Collier said. “So, I don’t want them to ever know if that’s what happens to me.”
Despite the dirty play by UCF, Collier was able to play her game about as well as anyone. As Auriemma has said, there is no player that can truly shutdown Collier and that was no different against the Knights.
The Huskies got off to a fast start against UCF, jumping out to a 23-4 lead by the end of the first quarter on 53 percent shooting from the field. But the second quarter happened and it seemed as though UConn was getting worn out by the UCF defense. The team ended up shooting only 25 percent from the field and hit only one 3-pointer. Despite shooting poorly, the UConn defense remained stout and they were only outscored 13-11 in the quarter.
“I am sure it’s going to be a good game,” Collier said after practice on Friday. “I’m sure they’re going to come out swinging, especially because of last game. They are really quick and aggressive. So, we are going to have to come out with the same energy as we did last time.”
Freshman Christyn Williams appears to have escaped her “freshman slump,” after coming off a 19-point game against South Carolina Monday night. Williams was able to jump start the offense in the second half of that game and she did the same in the third quarter against UCF, when her team needed a spark.
Williams scored all 12 of her points in the second half. To kick off the third quarter, Williams hit back-to-back 3-pointers and assisted on a Collier basket, accounting for the team’s first eight points.
Freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s play has really picked up for UConn over the last couple of games. Auriemma raved about the defense she provided for them against South Carolina and Collier said that her shot blocking has made her a difference-maker on defense.
“She’s really good at shot blocking,” Collier said of Nelson-Ododa. “When she was in the game the other night, (she) really turned it around for us when she was in. She can be a huge force.”
The 6-foot-4 forward finished the game with 21 minutes, led the team with three blocks to go with nine points and two rebounds. Her increase in productivity is a good sign for the Huskies as March is on the horizon.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.