UNCASVILLE – The UConn women’s basketball team stepped on the court at Mohegan Sun Arena Monday night to play the Cincinnati Bearcats without senior leader and defensive wall Gabby Williams.
Despite the absence of their superstar, the No. 1 Huskies (31-0) breezed through the semifinals and brought the Cincinnati offense to a halt for long stretches of play, ultimately winning 75-21 to advance to Tuesday’s American Athletic Conference championship game against USF.
The most impressive statistic for UConn Monday night was unquestionably its points allowed in the second quarter.
Zero. Zilch. Nada. The big goose egg.
The Huskies’ defense was absolutely impenetrable.
“I think we did a good job of getting out in front of passing lanes and also covering up for people,” senior guard Kia Nurse said. “They drove into the lane a couple times and we had our help side in there. Our bigs did a great job of coming over and blocking a bunch of shots for us today.”
The Bearcats couldn’t muster a single point in the second frame, shooting 0-11 to add to an already poor first half. In shutting out Cincinnati for those 10 minutes, UConn set an unbreakable program record for fewest points allowed in a quarter. For what it’s worth, the Huskies allowed a whole five points in the first half, which tied a program record for fewest points allowed in the first half, set against Fairleigh Dickinson on Nov. 25, 2011.
“I think we definitely feel that we’re playing good defense (in the moment),” junior guard Katie Lou Samuelson said when asked if she recognized the nature of the second quarter performance. “Especially this time in the tournament, we wanna keep putting our best defensive effort forward and having as much success as we can playing off of our defense.”
Even more impressive was the fact UConn did this without one of its two best defenders in Williams, who sat out due to a coach’s decision with a sore hip. Williams’ absence slid 6-foot-6 forward Azurá Stevens into the lineup, but that didn’t change the defensive setup too much, according to Nurse.
“Not a huge change in the gameplan (without Gabby),” Nurse said. “What we’re fortunate to have around here is somebody that has to understand that they need to step up. And it’s not one individual person; it’s collectively as a team. Understanding that nobody can be Gabby and nobody can do what Gabby does, but each of us can do a little be more.”
Williams said she was pleased to see how well the team played in her absence, and especially with Stevens brought to the table.
“I was really happy with (the defense),” Williams said. “I know I bring a certain something to our defense, but Z brings something different. I’m glad they were able to kinda hone in on that and…play well.”
Century of Success
With today’s win, UConn advanced to a 100-0 record (including postseason play) in the American Athletic Conference since joining the upstart conference in 2013-14. That is a truly outstanding mark to show how dominant the program has been in against its own conference year after year.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said he’s simply run out of ways to describe the team’s success.
“It must not be easy to do, because we’re the only ones doing it,” Auriemma said. “So there must be something that we’re doing that allows us to put ourselves in position to (have success)… It’s getting harder and harder every day to describe how success happens.”
Next up, the Huskies will meet the USF Bulls for the third time this season and for the fourth consecutive year in a bid to win the American Athletic Conference championship game for the fifth time in five years. The game will tip-off at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @realchrishanna.