The Green Wave is washed up, folks.
It was smooth sailing for the Huskies at the XL Center Wednesday night. UConn took down Tulane 74-31 behind a terrific defensive effort.
The Green Wave mustered just 10 points in the second half, with their two highest scoring players for the game scoring just seven points apiece. 31 is the lowest opponent score that the Huskies (22-3, 12-0 The American) have allowed so far this season.
“For the last week, we’ve really been harping on some defensive stuff,” Geno Auriemma said.
Tulane (12-14, 7-6) shot 20 percent from the field and turned the ball over 24 times. They had twice as many turnovers as they had made baskets. UConn scored 31 points off of those turnovers. Remarkably, the Huskies’ 14 steals isn’t their highest this season … or even in the last week. They had 17 steals Sunday against USF.
“That’s two straight games that we’ve played really well defensively. Even in the South Carolina game, we had a great first quarter defensively and in the second quarter we weren’t bad,” Auriemma said. “Our defense is starting to give us some confidence.”
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Megan Walker and Anna Makurat were the primary beneficiaries from the defense-turned-offense, each scoring a game-high 18 points. Each of them did so with incredible efficiency, taking just 12 shot attempts to do so, with each of them adding five rebounds. Makurat also had six steals, five assists and two blocks, but five turnovers.
“Anytime you play great defensively, it probably carries over to your offense.” Auriemma said.
Walker was tasked with guarding Krystal Freeman, Tulane’s leading scorer and rebounder. She rose to the occasion, holding Freeman to half of her season averages in those categories with just seven points on 3-for-9 shooting and four rebounds.
“Megan had a big challenge today, and she said, ‘I’m going to do a great job on this kid.’ And she did,” Auriemma said. “She had a great all-around game today.”
“I just followed the scouting report. I forced her left, didn’t give her any open threes and played for the drive. That’s what I did in the 1-on-1 matchup and took care of business,” Walker said. “This year I feel like I can guard a little bit of anything, whether they’re bigger, taller, quicker or faster.”
Olivia Nelson-Ododa recorded her first double-double since her 27-point, 15-rebound effort against Oklahoma on Dec. 22. Wednesday night, she had 10 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 5-for-9 and swatting away one shot.
“There was no one on the floor that could handle Liv. So, the strategy was, ‘Liv, run as fast as you can down to the block, post up and you guys better throw it to her.’” Auriemma said. “That’s the strategy we’ve had for 30 years here.”
UConn extends their record since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2013 to 132-0. Having never lost to a conference opponent since joining the AAC, it’s tough to gauge where the team is from blowouts like these. Geno thinks the defense is in a good spot, but the offense could stand to improve.
“Except for long stretches of the second quarter, I don’t think our offense was in peak form. We still have a long way to go there. We still have to move the ball better,” Auriemma said. “The ball has to change hands, and the ball has to go in the basket. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. We keep working on it and trying to get better at it.”
After scoring just nine points apiece in their last game against USF, guards Crystal Dangerfield and Christyn Williams were held in single figures again Wednesday. As the team’s second and third highest scorers this season, contributions from the star guards would surely bolster the offense.
Next for UConn is Senior Day Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. This year’s seniors will be honored before taking the court against UCF (16-8, 8-4). The Golden Knights are coming off of a 56-48 victory over their neighbors to the south, USF. Saturday’s game will tip off at 1 p.m.