This wasn’t the typical UConn women’s basketball game where the Huskies make the game of basketball look like a thing of beauty. They weren’t in sync and something was just off and coach Geno Auriemma noticed right away. So, just about five minutes into the game, he took out every single starter.
“Yeah that’s a big deal right. Sometimes it just doesn’t look right, and it didn’t look right,” Auriemma said of his team’s lethargic start. “So, like I was saying earlier, its gotten to a point where coaching, you just make suggestions, now you can’t tell people what you want them to do. You just make a suggestion, if they wanna do it, they do it, if they don’t, they don’t. So, I suggested that they sit down.”
The team found themselves down 6-4 and lacking energy against a USF team that had only eight players suited up. Auriemma said the team may have overlooked the Bulls since they were short-handed, and it made him think about two former Huskies.
“It’s days like today where you really miss Gabby (Williams) and Kia (Nurse) because they were the two people that could make it happen,” Auriemma said.
But on Sunday afternoon, it was Molly Bent who made it happen. With the Huskies down two points early on, Bent said that she knew she had to bring her energy into the game when Auriemma put the second unit in.
“Something that we can do is try to bring energy and I think when we were excited too, that helped,” Bent said. “Those guys, they start every game and I think getting in there so early, we were just so excited and we wanted to do something.”
When Batouly Camara knocked down a mid-range jumper and the crowd erupted, Bent said it felt like they were in the Final Four. Just like that, something changed, Bent and the second unit became the catalyst for the entire team. Once the starters re-entered the game in the second quarter, they were battling down low, diving for loose balls, forcing turnovers and creating chaos.
Bent started the second half in place of Williams and knocked down a key 3-pointer, off a monster block from Napheesa Collier, to put them up 31-20 and Gampel Pavilion was rocking. The Huskies then went on a 6-0 run in under a minute, this was where the game was won.
No. 3 UConn (14-1, 3-0 AAC) was out rebounded 42-26 by USF (10-7, 1-2 AAC) during the 63-46 win. This was not an aberration for the Bulls, in fact, they were out rebounding opponents by 12 heading into the game. The Huskies were able to force 23 turnovers, with seven steals.
Senior Katie Lou Samuelson was able to reach the 2,000 point milestone after a Christyn Williams steal led to an easy layup for Samuelson. She is just the 10th player in a UConn uniform to reach the accomplishment and at the following media timeout, Samuelson received a standing ovation.
“To see the names that are around it and even leading up to 2,000, there are still some great players in there,” Samuelson said. “And to be a part of that is a pretty special feeling, but I would have been happy if I scored one point and we got the win.”
Samuelson finished the game with 19 points and five assists on the way to victory, but freshman Christyn Williams did not score a single point for the Huskies. Auriemma said that she is still learning how to be effective without scoring the basketball.
The Bulls, who were without Kitija Laksa, Laura Ferreira, Beatriz Jordao and Alyssa Rader, tried to slow down the Huskies typical fast tempo. While they were missing four key components to the team, Enna Pehadzic stepped up. The sophomore scored 17 points and reeled in 12 rebounds (four offensive). Head coach Jose Fernandez was pleased with his team’s effort.
“I couldn’t be prouder of those kids and that group,” Fernandez said. “They’ve been really resilient and continue to invest and practice hard every day.”
Five out of the eight players for USF are freshmen, including Luize Septe, who joined the team on Dec. 30.
Point guard Crystal Dangerfield was hit hard toward the end of the fourth quarter and got up gingerly, but walked back to the bench and appears to be okay.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.