UConn went on the road Sunday afternoon and beat USF 67-47, but despite the 20-point win, the Huskies didn’t dominate all 40 minutes.
UConn (21-3) got off to a slow start, losing the first quarter 19-13. By halftime, they clawed back to cut the deficit to just four. The score was 29-25, which remarkably was the halftime score last season when these two teams played on the very same court.
What changed for UConn in the second half was they were able to effectively run their offense and control the ball. They turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, then just once in each of the following two quarters.
“It’s amazing how when you get into something that looks like offense and you cut, screen, pass and shoot when you’re supposed to, you end up winning games,” Geno Aureimma said.
UConn took their time in the locker room at halftime, coming out just a minute before the second half was set to start. Whatever they went over in there, it worked.
The Huskies’ offense was carried by forwards Megan Walker and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Walker scored a game-high 21 points shooting 8-for-12, also grabbing four rebounds and two steals. Nelson-Ododa had 20 points, eight rebounds, two steals and four blocks, going a great 9-for-12 from the field.
“We saw how hard she [Nelson-Ododa] was working defensively and offensively in the post,” Auriemma said. “On a couple of the shots that she made, there was a lot of traffic and bodies on her. She played a really solid game.”
“Coming out of halftime, we were able to turn things around and turn up the intensity defensively,” Nelson-Ododa said.
As much as UConn turned the ball over in the first half, they were able to get more of those possessions back on the other end with their aggressive defense. The Huskies forced 22 turnovers, coming away with 17 steals. Five of those steals were from freshman Aubrey Griffin.
“Aubrey was amazing defensively; she changed the complexion of the game,” Auriemma said.
Griffin also scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“Aubrey and Olivia were the two that really impacted the game today,” Auriemma said.
UConn played six players all game. Three of UConn’s taller, longer players, Walker, Nelson-Ododa and Griffin, combined to shoot 21-for-31. Guards Crystal Dangerfield, Christyn Williams and Anna Makurat shot 7-for-27. This serves as a testament to how challenging playing against USF’s guards can be.
Rolling with a three-guard lineup for the majority of the game, USF got a lot of their offense from the perimeter.
Elisa Pinzan led the team in points with 15, adding four assists and hitting three 3-pointers. Sydni Harvey and Elena Tsineke each scored nine points, both also hitting a shot from beyond the arc.
After shooting 5-of-6 from deep in the first quarter, USF was held to just 1-for-12 for the rest of the game.
“They’ll change sides of the floor three or four times and the second you make a mistake, they can get in the lane and find open 3-point shooters,” Auriemma said. “We did a great job of not letting them break us down individually and staying connected to shooters. Our on-ball defense was way better.”
Griffin checked in for Makurat midway through the game, and her impact on defense kept her on the court for the remainder of the contest. Those three Bulls guards committed 13 turnovers by the end of the game.
“Aubrey came in and changed the game with the pressure she put on their point guard,” Auriemma said. “She’s become a constant source of bewilderment.”
With the victory, UConn has extended their record against the American Athletic Conference to 131-0. All five of the remaining games on the schedule are against conference opponents, and I’m sure departing the conference with a perfect record before joining the Big East next season will be a goal of Geno’s.
Next up for the Huskies is a home game Wednesday night against Tulane. That game will tip off at the XL Center at 7 p.m.