It’s officially official folks. As of 6:30 p.m. last night, the UConn Huskies are back in the Big East Conference. And after a 92-65 win over conference foe Seton Hall, it appears they are picking up right where they left off in 2013.
The Huskies got off to a quick start, forcing seven turnovers and taking advantage on the other end on the back of Christyn Williams, who scored UConn’s first five points and ended the quarter with 11. Head Coach Geno Auriemma said William’s performance was a welcome sight after her season-opener and played a big part in the team’s success.
“I thought she worked really hard on defense and that’s where it’s gotta begin,” Auriemma said. “She did a great job guarding a couple of their 3-point shooters and [that] translated to good offense as well. ”
Things took a sharp turn in a second quarter that actually saw the Huskies lose 13-15, hampered by their own turnovers and missed opportunities as well as a 19-point half from Seton Hall’s Lauren Park-Lane. Freshmen Mir McLean and Aaliyah Edwards provided a spark scoring nine of UConn’s 13 points, but otherwise the Huskies shot just 2-13 and went into halftime only up eight. But whatever Auriemma said in the locker room at halftime must have hit home for UConn, because once the second half hit it was all Huskies all the time led by the Big 3 of Paige Bueckers, Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
The third quarter started with the ball in Bueckers’ hands and she simply did what Auriemma knows she can do, opening the quarter with her first career 3-pointer before finding Nelson-Ododa on a pick-and-roll on the next possession and hitting a layup of her own on the next making her responsible for the team’s first seven points of the quarter.
The rest of the third was controlled by the trio of Bueckers, Williams and Nelson-Ododa who were responsible for all of UConn’s 33 points, scoring 15, seven and 11 respectively on 14/16 shooting. Auriemma praised his team on a great second half that all but sealed the victory.
“We started to make some adjustments and we started to get into the flow of the game and by the second half we had settled into a nice rhythm both defensively and offensively,” Auriemma said. “We got some great performances out of a couple guys and that’s generally what it takes on the road.”
The surprise of the fourth quarter was freshman Edwards, who once again showed off her incredible strength and drive in the lane. The Canadian scored 11 of her career-high 17 points in the final quarter headlined by some great offensive rebounding, but it was the brute force she played with that continues to catch Auriemma’s eye.
“She’s different than anybody else we have in size in, stature, in mindset [and] in the way she plays the game,” Auriemma said. “If you wanna beat some of the teams that you have to beat in March you need a physical presence like that in the lane and she has it.”
When asked how they would feel if they were tasked with guarding Edwards down low, Williams and Bueckers both laughed before saying they would stand no chance against her.
“She’s the strongest person I know,” Bueckers said. “She comes into the game, rips off her mask and it’s just intensity [with] everything that she does.”
Williams added that she is thankful Edwards is on her team and not the other team.
By the final buzzer UConn was able to walk away with a comfortable victory and great contributions across the board. Nelson-Ododa finished the game with 16 points and 10 rebounds — her first double-double of the young season —, Edwards put up 17 points and eight boards and Williams added 21 points and four assists. But it was once again Bueckers who. coming off of her first of likely many Big East Freshman of the Week honors, played the biggest part in the Huskies earning the win. She finished the game with a team-high 25 points, four rebounds and five assists, leading the charge in the third quarter and once again proving she deserves the hype surrounding her.
“She just has a little bit of a knack for the game…” Auriemma said. “If you’re on her team all you have to do is run around on offense with your hands up all the time and you’ll probably score double figures. She’s got a lot to learn, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something special about her.”
The Huskies continue their stretch of four games in eight days with a matchup against Creighton on Thursday at Gampel Pavilion as they try to reassert their dominance back in the Big East.