The first time the UConn women’s basketball team faced in-state rival Quinnipiac, the 1998 Huskies came away with a 97-point victory that remains the program record 20 years later. When the two teams met for the second time Monday night in the NCAA Tournament, UConn faced a much tougher test but came away with a 71-46 win.
Quinnipiac (28-6) took its time on offense, averaging an incredibly high 28 seconds per possession in the first half. The Bobcats wisely slowed the game down after seeing UConn drop 140 points on St. Francis in an up-tempo game Saturday.
“Built on past experiences and being in the NCAA Tournament… and knowing where UConn is right now, we said, ‘We gotta do something else. What’s going to give our team the best chance to win?’” Quinnipiac head coach Tricia Fabbri said. “And we firmly believed in shortening that shot clock and taking it down. Slowing the game down, shortening the game to give us a puncher’s chance, to keep it close and within striking distance.”
Because of the pace, UConn (34-0) was held to just 44 field goal attempts in the game after taking 91 shots in the first round. The Huskies countered the slow pace by taking high-percentage shots and making each possession count, leading to a 59.1 percent field goal percentage.
“There was going to be a limited number of points scored today, obviously that was the way the game was going to be played,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “They were going to get ‘X’ number of open shots, and what we were trying to do is make sure that we didn’t worry so much about how many shots they got, as opposed to if we keep converting on the offensive end, they’re going to have to speed up a little bit and try to catch up. Each possession for us, offensively, was important.”
The Huskies jumped to a 13-4 lead in the game’s first five minutes, but Quinnipiac hung around until a Kia Nurse 3-pointer gave UConn a 27-16 lead with 4:32 remaining in the first half. UConn led by double digits from that point on.
Napheesa Collier scored 10 of her game-high 23 points in the first quarter, shooting 3-3 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line in the opening quarter. Collier added eight rebounds, four assists and two steals while finishing 9-11 from the field in the game.
“We’re fortunate that (Napheesa’s) able to impact the game in a way that it doesn’t matter what the other team is doing, she rarely is going to be out of position in the post, you’re rarely able to keep her from going where she wants to go with the ball…” Auriemma said. “Pheesa has a lot of different ways to score and today was a perfect example of that.”
Seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams played their final game in Gampel Pavilion, where they were undefeated in their four-year career. Nurse scored 13 points on 3-5 from the 3-point line and Williams scored six points with five assists. The seniors will finish their historic careers without a loss in the state of Connecticut.
“Gampel Pavilion and the XL Center are two of the greatest places in the country to call home,” Nurse said. “It’s a matter of the fans and our fan base that comes out each and every game with the same passion, the same energy, who’s always behind us to be that sixth man for us… It’s been an incredible four years here.”
The win sends UConn to Albany for its 25th consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, where the Huskies will take on Duke Saturday.
“We’ve built the kind of program where getting to the regionals is kind of expected…” Auriemma said. “When you get to that second weekend, it’s your team and it’s one or two players on your team that can make the difference.”
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.