If the shots aren’t falling, win the game with your defense.
That has been the UConn basketball mantra to start the season, and that is how the Huskies came out on top against No. 18 DePaul in last night’s 75-52 win. In a game where neither team could get much going in terms of offense, it was No. 4 UConn’s suffocating defense that held the Blue Demons to just 25% shooting and saw the Huskies leave Gampel with their sixth win of the year.
“We said going into the game that we needed to have a really, really good defensive night, that we needed to be on our game and we needed to force difficult shots and we did,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We made a lot of really, really good decisions defensively.”
Coming into the game, DePaul (5-3, 2-1 Big East) was averaging just over 88 points per game, by far the most of any opponent UConn had faced to this point. And for the second time all season, the Huskies found themselves behind early after the Blue Demons hit three of their first four 3-point attempts to go up 11-9.
Luckily for UConn though, it was Olivia Nelson-Ododa who kept them in it early, once again using her incredible size and touch to repeatedly get in the paint and wreak havoc. By the end of the first quarter Nelson-Ododa put up seven points and five boards, including three on the offensive end off her own misses, getting the Huskies out to a 20-16 lead. She would finish the game with 16 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.
Nelson-Ododa ran into a bit of trouble in the second quarter as DePaul started double and triple-teaming her down low resulting in a couple turnovers early. In her absence it was freshmen Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards giving UConn big minutes, combining for 11 of the Huskies 18 points in the period. But even after going up 11 after two quarters, there were still some major changes Auriemma wanted to see for the second half.
“The emphasis was really to slow down on offense, be more patient and also defensively make sure that we’re locking down more so that we can get the momentum that we need in our transition game ‘cause that’s what we thrive off of,” Edwards said.
While the transition game never really came — the Huskies were held to just 11 fastbreak points, their fewest of the season — the offense picked up nicely in the final two quarters, sparked as always by some solid defense.
Where in the first half Nelson-Ododa looked rushed when she found herself doubled, she looked much more composed in the third and was able to find open teammates for easy buckets, finishing the quarter with three assists. Edwards also returned to the floor, this time alongside Nelson-Ododa and provided an immediate spark scoring four points in five minutes.
Edwards would finish the game with 11 points — her third time reaching double figures in five games played — and five boards. If Edwards and Nelson-Ododa are able to share the court together well, Auriemma said it could have a major impact, particularly on the defensive end.
“When Liv comes out, and we put Aaliyah in, the physicality of the game changes,” Auriemma said. “And then when the two of them were in there together, I think the size combination of the two of them makes it really tough, you know, for people to get anything going in the lane. They give us a big physical presence.”
Up 14 after three quarters, UConn slammed the door in the final frame, holding the Blue Demons to just two buckets in 14% shooting. The 52 points DePaul scored was their lowest point total since 2016 and their 25% shooting mark was their worst on the season. Credit for that defensive stalworth goes to Christyn Williams who kept the Blue Demons’ top scorer in check the majority of the game despite struggling with her own offense.
DePaul junior Sonya Morris led the team in scoring heading into the matchup, putting up over 18 points a game, but Williams held her to just eight points on 2-14 shooting. The junior scored just 14 points of her own on 5-13 shooting, but Auriemma was impressed with her ability to find other ways to help the team, also chipping in eight rebounds and five assists.
“To be able to play a game of basketball and play well when you’re not shooting the ball, I think that’s a sign that someone’s growing up as a player and evolving as a player,” Auriemma said. “And I think Christyn is doing that.”
William’s also reached the 1000 point mark in this one off a layup in the first quarter, becoming the 49th Husky to reach that accomplishment. The next benchmark she’ll aim for is 2000 points, which only 11 other UConn players have reached.
At the final buzzer, Paige Bueckers led the Huskies with 18 points despite having a poor shooting night of her own while Nelson-Ododa (16), Williams (14), Edwards (11) and Evina Westbrook (10) also got into double figures.
This is the type of defense UConn is going to have to play if they want to have a chance at a deep tournament run come March, and they’ll get tested again next week as they head to Texas to take on No. 7 Baylor. But it’s good to know that even on days when the shots aren’t falling and Auriemma calls this team the worst shooting team in the country, their defense can still keep them in any game.