For the seventh time in seven years, UConn is American Athletic Conference tournament champions.
The championship game, just like the previous two, wasn’t even close, coming out on top 87-53.
“You don’t win championships without really, really good players,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “And you have really, really good players and you give yourself a chance to win those games. The way the game started, Christyn getting us going early and then Megan — we have really good players, that’s how you win these games. That’s how you win these championships.”
Megan Walker led the Huskies with 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting from the field including a solid 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. After going just 1-for-7 in the first quarter, Walker seemingly could not miss the rest of the game.
Christyn Williams was right behind her with 22 points of her own, doing so on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 from deep. Crystal Dangerfield added 14 on 7-of-13 shooting, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa tacked on 11 on 5-of-7 shooting.
As a team the Huskies shot 54% from the field, opposed to Cincinnati’s 32%, but their biggest advantage came on the boards, where the Huskies outrebounded Cincy 51-31. UConn had five players with seven or more rebounds — Nelson-Ododa (11), Dangerfield (8), Williams (8), Walker (7) and Aubrey Griffin (7).
The Huskies also had three players named to the All-Championship team: Senior Crystal Dangerfield, Williams and Griffin.
Dangerfield and Williams were each named to the All-Conference team, but Griffin was not, nor was she named to the All-Freshman team. In this tournament, she played like she had a chip on her shoulder, scoring 25 points and grabbing 20 boards in the first two games and two points and seven rebounds in just 12 minutes in the championship.
“Hopefully she’s really proud of that,” Dangerfield said. “I thought she should have been on the All-Freshman Team, and I think she should have won Defensive Player of the Year award. There’s not many people in our conference that can do what she does, so I think that was deserving.”
The Defensive Player of the Year praise from Dangerfield got a big roar of support from Anna Makurat when the sentiment was passed along to the pair of freshmen, and Griffin said she was happy to make the All-Championship team.
“It feels good,” Griffin said. “I was not expecting it. But it does feel good.”
UConn also had the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, with the award going to none other than Conference Player of the Year Megan Walker.
Walker put up 64 points over the three games and got 20 rebounds, showing the fans at Mohegan Sun why she is the Conference Player of the Year.
UConn as a team did play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders, with senior Kyla Irwin going down with a broken elbow in Sunday’s game, effectively ending her career and making her not able to attend the championship game.
“We definitely played for her,” Makurat said.
“We had that mentality just to go out there and play hard for her,” Griffin added.
“It’s really sad it happened, but I think we have extra motivation right now, to just play for her, cause she deserved this championship and many, many more,” Makurat said.
The team FaceTimed with Irwin after the game, celebrating with her.
“She was going crazy on the phone,” Griffin said. “It felt like she was here with us, so that was nice.”
Irwin even sent the team her pregame rap, continuing the tradition even when she wasn’t able to be there in person.
“We wanted to make sure Kyla was involved and make sure that she knew she was in our thoughts,” Dangerfield said.
For UConn, this marks the seventh-straight American Athletic Conference championship and secured a run of 139 wins and no losses all-time in the conference. Their undefeated mark is set in stone, seeing as the Huskies are making the move to the Big East Conference next season.
The Huskies are now on to the NCAA tournament, and UConn is not the favorite. Not only that, but for the second year in a row, they’re probably not even a No. 1 seed.
“What? How could this be at UConn? Who’s going to console me and tell me it’s all going to be ok?”
Well I don’t know random UConn fan who somehow found their way into this recap, but I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not going to be Geno.
“I find it kinda humorous, to be honest with you, that a horrible year at Connecticut is 29-3 and winning the conference championship and being ranked fifth in the country,” Auriemma said. “‘It’s a rebuilding year.’ Look around the country, rebuilding years other places means you don’t even make the tournament.”
But for now, they’re just going to relish in this win.
“Confetti’s our favorite part at the end,” Dangerfield said. “And we have a lot of fun with it.”