A nearly two-week break did nothing to stop UConn’s offense. After dropping 100 points in the American Athletic Conference tournament final against USF, the Huskies were even better Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA tournament against No. 16 seed Albany.
The Huskies (33-0) scored an NCAA first-round record 116 points on their way to a nearly effortless 116-55 win over the Great Danes, their 108th victory in a row. On top of tying their own NCAA scoring record, the 116 points were the most the Huskies have scored since a 117-37 win over Holy Cross on Nov. 14, 2010.
“The 12-day layoff that you have isn’t quite normal, to sit around for that long and come back and play,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “It didn’t seem to affect us that much offensively.”
UConn shook off the rust with a 37-point first quarter, leading right from the tip and getting out to a 9-0 lead. After hitting 10-straight 3-pointers in the win over USF, Huskies star Katie Lou Samuelson recorded her first miss from deep since March 5 after her first attempt of the day was off.
Samuelson wasn’t phased by the miss, finishing the day with 15 points on 6-13 shooting and a career-high nine assists, the first of which came on a long outlet pass over the top of Kia Nurse’s head for a layup to help UConn get out to a 14-7 lead.
“I thought Lou was horrible that first half,” Auriemma said. “When she starts playing a little bit of defense, rebounding the ball a little bit, cutting, getting involved more… I liked that.”
While Samuelson struggled early on, Napheesa Collier got the offense going for UConn, scoring 13 of her 24 points in the opening quarter. Collier would finish the day with 24 points and 10 rebounds for her 14th double-double of the season.
UConn and the Great Danes traded runs to open up the second period before the Huskies fell into a scoring drought that spanned nearly half of the quarter. Freshman Crystal Dangerfield stopped the 4:50 drought with a devastating crossover of Albany’s Bose Aiyalogbe for an easy floater to put the Huskies up 50-28 with three minutes to play.
Despite looking shaky on defense at times in their first half of basketball in 12 days, the Huskies still led 58-32 at halftime. By the time the second-half began, UConn looked as dominant as ever.
“There were a lot of stretches in the second half where we started to get it back and we looked really really good,” Auriemma said. That first three or four minutes of the second half kind of ended the game for all intents and purposes.”
The Huskies wreaked havoc on Albany to open the third quarter, scoring nine points in the first 67 seconds to stretch the lead to 35. From there on out, UConn wouldn’t look back. Tiana-Jo Carter was the only Great Danes player to score from the field in the third quarter with two buckets in the first five minutes. From there on out, Albany’s Imani Tate made seven free throws to end the period.
Tate finished the day with a team-high 19 points in her final game with the Great Danes. Jessica Fequiere was the only other Albany player in double figures with 13 points.
“My time here at Albany was great,” Tate said. “It was a great experience and I’m grateful for this program.”
UConn put the finishing touches on their win over Albany with a 33-point fourth quarter with an onslaught of 3-pointers.
After Samuelson and Kia Nurse hit from deep to start and Fequiere answered with a 3-pointer of her own, the Huskies rattled off a 17-0 run that ended with back-to-back 3-pointers from Dangerfield to put UConn up 105-49.
Nurse’s fourth game back from her right-ankle injury was clearly her best, as the junior guard tied her career-high with six made 3-pointers and shot 8-10 from the field as part of a 24-point performance. The 24 points were the most Nurse has scored since her 33-point performance against DePaul on Dec. 1.
“She looked really good out there,” Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said of Nurse. “With her, they’re on all cylinders and when Connecticut’s on all cylinders they’re a tough opponent for anybody in the country.”
Dangerfield would hit another 3-pointer with 2:37 left to put the Huskies at 111 points before a Natalie Butler jumper and 3-pointer from Kyla Irwin helped the Huskies tie their own NCAA tournament first round record of 116 points.
All in all, the Huskies finished the final quarter 7-8 from beyond the arc, with the only miss coming from Dangerfield, who finished her day with 16 point and six assists thanks to her fourth-quarter outburst.
“It’s good to have her come off the bench and give us something new and just add on to what we already have,” Williams said of Dangerfield. “With that sixth-man role, I think she’s doing a great job of providing that spark.”
With the victory, UConn will play No. 8 Syracuse, who defeated No. 9 Iowa State 85-65 Saturday afternoon, in the second round of the NCAA tournament at either 6:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. The Huskies and Orange have not played since UConn’s 82-51 win over Syracuse in the 2016 National Championship game last season.