Women’s Basketball: UConn gets back on track; stifles ECU at home

Freshman big Olivia Nelson-Ododa attacks the Pirates on Wednesday night (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

HARTFORD -- The UConn women’s basketball team enjoys a good home-cookin’. With the crowd behind them, sleeping in their own bed and sticking to a familiar routine, the Huskies are virtually unstoppable. That was the case Wednesday night against ECU.

“We have to be able to do that on the road,” Napheesa Collier said of the team’s comfortability at home. “Once tournament time comes, we are not going to be at home. So, we have to get used to sleeping in hotel rooms and being tired and being able to push through that.” 

No. 5 UConn (20-2, 9-0 AAC) are coming off a tough road trip that featured the Huskies losing to then-No. 3 Louisville and a gritty win against Cincinnati. As a team, UConn shot 38 percent against the Cardinals and about 40 percent against the Bearcats. 

It was a different story against ECU (11-11, 2-7 AAC) on their homecourt. UConn was able to shoot nearly 70 percent in the first half against the Pirates. Most notably, the Huskies scored the most points (70) in a half this season and eclipsed 100 points for the first time this year during its 118-55 victory. Collier said it was encouraging to be able to come out as strong as they did. 

“We’ve been struggling a little bit with hitting our shots,” Collier said. “It felt good to have a game like this where we were hitting a bunch and getting out in transition and doing all of the things we like to do that we got away from.” 

The Huskies were able to improve their record at home to 8-0, while ECU has still not been able to win a game on the road, bringing them to 0-8 this season. The Pirates, who had not played a ranked opponent prior to Wednesday night, typically compete in front of about 1,200 fans at home. Even though this is not the first time they played in Connecticut, ECU was not prepared to deal with UConn on the court or its fans in the arena. 

The UConn bench were able to have a strong game with ample playing time due to the 45-point lead in the first half. The reserves were able to score 25 points, with Olivia Nelson-Ododa scoring six, blocking two shots and reeling in six rebounds. Fan-favorite Molly Bent was able to score eight points and drill two 3-pointers, which resulted in loud roars from the crowd of 8,469. 

“There was a good look about it,” head coach Geno Auriemma said about the bench. “Take into consideration who we were playing, but they look like, ‘we got a pretty good idea of what we are trying to do.’ That was the whole point of tonight.” 

Senior Katie Lou Samuelson was able to have her best game of the year and it only took her 14 minutes to surpass her season-high of 26 points. Samuelson would go on to score 31 points, missing only two shots from the field. The senior was able to shake off her worst offensive game of the season, which she missed all six of her 3-point attempts and shot barely 20 percent. Auriemma said it was a good sign she scored the amount of points she did without taking many 3-point shots. 

“I think sometimes with shooters, they get obsessed then, why isn’t it going in?” Auriemma said. “And they just keep at it, keep at and keep at it. And all they do is get more frustrated because they can’t get it to go in. If you just forget about that part of your game and just do a bunch of other stuff, then all of a sudden the other stuff kinda fills in the gap and you start knocking in a couple of shots.” 

The last time UConn played at the XL Center, they demolished a tough UCF team, during what was probably the Huskies’ best game of the year prior to Wednesday night. One of the highlight-reel plays from that game came on a tip pass from Samuelson to Crystal Dangerfield for the layup to beat the first-half buzzer. During the first quarter of the game against ECU, Samuelson and Dangerfield accomplished a similar play. 

“I was expecting a pass and then the same exact situation happened, but in transition,” Samuelson said. “It was just funny after it happened, I did feel deja-vu a bit.”

It felt good to have a game like this where we were hitting a bunch and getting out in transition and doing all of the things we like to do that we got away from
— Napheesa Collier

Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.logan@uconn.edu.