It was the Aubrey Griffin show Thursday night in New Jersey, as the freshman had one of the best games of her young career. In fact, it was one of the best games any UConn player has had all season.
On the back of her strong game, the Huskies defeated the Seton Hall Pirates 92-78 in a future (and past) Big East matchup and improved to 7-0.
With Crystal Dangerfield sidelined due to back spasms, the big question was who was going to step up to fill that void.
To make matters worse, Olivia Nelson-Ododa picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game, resulting in her being subbed out and not returning for the rest of the first half. Then, Christyn Williams also got into foul trouble, picking up three in 10:02 of game action, two of which were offensive. She was subbed out for the rest of the half with seven minutes remaining.
The two members of the core four combined for just 42 minutes, 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six turnovers.
So who stepped up? Answer: Aubrey Griffin.
So far this season, Griffin has averaged just 15 minutes per game, scoring 4.7 points, grabbing four boards and getting almost two steals while going 6-of-14 from the line.
Thursday, in a season-high 31 minutes, Griffin put up 25 points, grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds (where they were split evenly offensive and defensive), dished out one assist, blocked one shot and had two steals – all while committing just two turnovers and one personal foul. Perhaps most impressive was her composure from the free-throw line, where she went 10-for-12, leaps and bounds above her season average.
Her best attribute is her freak athleticism, which head coach Geno Auriemma described earlier in the season as one of the best that had ever been through his program. Against the Pirates, it was on full display.
Now, that’s not to say she did it alone, as once again, Megan Walker exploded. The only UConn player to play all 40 minutes, Walker scored a team-high and season-high 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists, though she did lead the team with four turnovers.
Freshman Anna Makurat also had what was perhaps her best game as a Husky, playing a season-high 30 minutes. Even though she only scored eight points, she did so rather efficiently on 3-of-6 shooting and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, something she has struggled with thus far. Even though she was tied for No. 5 on the team in scoring, she grabbed 11 boards, just one behind Griffin and a season-high.
Molly Bent had also 10 points in 27 minutes, both of which were season-highs for her.
This win wasn’t easy for the Huskies, as throughout the first half Seton Hall either stuck with them or just flat-out outplayed them. At one point, the Huskies found themselves down a whopping nine points, and while that might not seem like a lot, that’s the largest deficit UConn has faced all season.
UConn took a two-point lead into the half and never looked back, outscoring the Pirates 12-6 the first five minutes of the third quarter. They took a six-point lead into the fourth, and just a minute and a half later it was into double digits. From there, Seton Hall never got closer than seven points.
With all the questions of who would step up when the core four either didn’t play well or was injured, Thursday was just about as encouraging a game as you could hope for.
The young Huskies showed up to play, and Walker has transformed into that dominant scoring presence the team needs. Last year Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier could be penciled in for about 20-plus points a night, and Walker is starting to enter that conversation.
They will be back in action Sunday in what is one of the most exciting games of the season when they host Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m., so take a break from studying for finals and come watch UConn’s revenge game.