The UConn women’s basketball team headed south Saturday for its last road game of the regular season and came out on top over the SMU Mustangs by a score of 80-36, clinching the American Athletic Conference regular season title despite a rough start that saw the Huskies trailing for much of the first quarter.
The No. 1 Huskies (28-0, 15-0 the American) had a rough start, falling behind 5-0 in the first 1:30 of the game before junior forward Napheesa Collier made a pair of free throws to put UConn on the scoreboard. The Huskies finally made their first field goal with just under seven minutes to go on a nice feed from Katie Lou Samuelson to senior Kia Nurse on the fastbreak.
Still, UConn’s first lead of the game didn’t come until there was 1:23 remaining in the first quarter, when Collier converted an and-one to make it 13-12. Back-to-back threes from Nurse and Samuelson made it 19-12 to the end the quarter on a 15-2 run.
The Huskies’ run didn’t stop there. SMU (10-18, 4-11 the American) didn’t make a bucket in the entire second quarter, while UConn went on a tear, scoring 32 points on 12-21 shooting. The Mustangs, who committed eight turnovers in the frame, had only one point in the entire second quarter which came on a free throw seconds before heading into the locker room. UConn’s 45-1 run to end the half was just another series of highlights in another spectacular season.
UConn kept up the energy and effort in the second half, holding SMU to just 36 points for the game on 26.9 percent shooting from the field Saturday night. Just one Mustang, McKenzie Adams, reached double figures scoring for the night, hitting the 10-point mark with a layup in the last minutes of the game.
Samuelson led all scorers with 23 points on 9-16 shooting in just 22 minutes on the floor. Collier and Gabby Williams were also limited to 22 minutes on the evening, scoring 16 and five points, respectively.
Freshman Megan Walker, who was held out of the Huskies’ last game against Tulane, earned her spot back on the floor Saturday, logging in 13 minutes and scoring six points on 3-7 shooting. The Chesterfield, Virginia native also added four rebounds in her short time on the court.
Azurá Stevens, who has played with a lot of confidence as of late, was particularly impressive coming off the bench. The redshirt junior transfer from Duke scored 14 points on 7-13 shooting, along with 14 rebounds in just 20 minutes. Stevens’ play could be key for the Huskies down the stretch this season come tourney time.
Next up, UConn will head to Gampel Pavilion Monday night to take on the USF Bulls in what will be its last game of the regular season and Senior Night for Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams.
The No. 18 Bulls (24-5, 13-2 the American) are coming off a 84-65 win Saturday over the Cincinnati Bearcats in which stars Maria Jespersen and Kitija Laksa shined brightest. Jespersen was a monster all night long, finishing with game-highs in points and rebounds with 26 and 16, respectively. The normally sharpshooting Laksa added 22 points on just 5-14 shooting. Still, Laksa got herself to the free throw line eight times and did not miss once.
The big story Monday will be the end to Nurse’s and Williams’ regular season careers. Both have had a storied four years at UConn, losing just two games out of 142 games played since they came to Storrs. Nurse has already reached the 1,500 point mark for her career and Williams should reach the milestone by the NCAA tournament.