STORRS – Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the UConn women’s basketball team makes sure to prove you wrong.
The No. 1 overall Huskies (33-0) smashed several records on their way to a 140-52 win over the No. 16 seed Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash, including a program and NCAA Tournament record for points in a single game, program and NCAA Tournament record for assists in a single game, along with NCAA records for points in a single quarter and points in a single half.
“We just took advantage of all the things that were available to us the entire game,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said post-game. “And we were a really unselfish team and we’re really good at passing up some easy shots for a great shot. We did that and we just kept doing it, and that’s kind of why what happened, happened.”
Saint Francis head coach Joe Haigh said the gameplan was to prevent the Huskies from shooting 3s and limit them to mid-range jumpers, while shooting a high volume of 3s in hopes of outscoring UConn. The gameplan was a drastic switch from the Red Flash’s normal strategy and played right into the hands of the ascendant Huskies.
“It’s hard to play defense ‘cause they’re the best players in the world…and they make shots,” Haigh said. “We’re a little disadvantaged in height and athletic ability and those types of things, and they’re just better.”
Offensively, Saint Francis shot a pitiful 10-57 from beyond the arc and 18-81 from the field, but kept up a high tempo and shot 3-pointer after 3-pointer early in the shot clock with no regret, making the game a high-possession shootout the Huskies would certainly win.
“Well, I do have to say I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in anything quite like that,” Auriemma said. “That was quite different than anything I’ve experienced in either the regular season or the NCAA Tournament… 57 3s. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
The game started with both teams racing out of the gates and the Red Flash held their own for a few minutes by hitting a pair of 3s to keep the game close in the first few minutes. However, after Saint Francis made it 11-8 with 8:12 remaining in the first, UConn went on a tear on both ends of the floor.
The Huskies forced the Red Flash into numerous bad possessions on the way to a 33-2 run in just six minutes, and the first quarter wasn’t even over yet. The Huskies’ unselfishness in the first quarter, as well as the entire game, was crucial to their success, as they finished with 17 assists in the opening 10 minutes and 38 for the game. UConn came out of the first frame with an inconceivable NCAA-record 55 points, but was not stopping there.
“One thing that impressed me was (UConn’s) cohesiveness and their communication on the floor,” Saint Francis senior Cydney Smith said of the Huskies’ big runs after the game. “I think that’s something we emphasize a lot, but we’ve never really seen it put into action the way (UConn) did today… They were very composed.”
Led by forwards Napheesa Collier and Azurá Stevens, the Huskies’ score ballooned further by the time they headed to the locker room for halftime up 94-31. That’s a score you might see at the end of a UConn game, rather than at halftime. The 94-point showing in the first half was, believe it or not, also an NCAA record.
“I can’t say that we were aware of any records that we were setting, but we came out in the first quarter and I think we did a great job of getting some tips, getting our hands on passes,” senior guard Kia Nurse said. “Our defense turned into our offense.”
The Huskies’ bench took over for the fourth quarter to give the starters some rest and didn’t miss a beat. They went on a 22-2 run over the last 8:06 of the game and pushed hard for the all-time NCAA record for points in a single game of 149, set by Long Beach St. on Feb. 17, 1987, but the pace of the game slowed down significantly and it couldn’t be done.
Still, UConn smashed the previous NCAA Tournament record for points in a game, set by Alabama with 121 points against Duke on March 18, 1995, but that game went to four overtimes. The 140-point game also broke UConn’s previous program record for points in a game, which was 126 in a game against Providence College on Jan. 6, 1998. The Huskies also added an NCAA tourney record for most rebounds in a single tournament game with 69 boards, 15 of which were on the offensive glass.
“I don’t think we were really aware (of the records),” Samuelson agreed. “I think we were aware of how quickly we were going up and down the court and I was pretty tired at that first media timeout, but we were just getting a lot of opportunities and taking advantage of them whenever we could.”
UConn’s big win came one day after the No. 16 seed UMBC Retrievers defeated the No. 1 overall Virginia Cavaliers, the first time such an upset happened in the men’s game.
“(The UMBC win) was crazy and I think it shows anything can happen in the tournament and anything can happen at any time,” Samuelson said. “We talked about it and we wanted to make sure that wasn’t (going to happen to) us also.”
Auriemma added that the biggest concern in a game like this against a No. 16 seed looking to make an upset is whether or not the offense can get going.
“That (concern) kind of went away after the first five possessions,” Auriemma said, “and you knew it was just gonna be one of those days.”
The Huskies’ historic performance triggered the usual reactions on social media, regarding the competitiveness of the women’s game if UConn is slaughtering teams the way it did.
“It’s not my fault that we play well regardless of whether we play teams that are in the top five in the country or 305. I couldn’t care less,” Auriemma said. “If I play all my players 30 minutes every single night, we would have scores like this every night… Some games are a struggle and today wasn’t a struggle. And it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Sports media personalities like Darren Rovell and Dan Shaughnessy have gone as far as to suggest UConn is bad for the game of women’s basketball, to which Saint Francis’ coach fervently disagreed.
“This is not bad for women’s basketball at all,” Haigh said. “The people that wanna say this is bad for women’s basketball are the ones that don’t care about women’s basketball much anyway.”
Next up, the Huskies will take on in-state rival Quinnipiac, who defeated the University of Miami in 8/9 matchup, in what is sure to be a packed house at Gampel Pavilion Monday night. Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN’s family of networks.