Playing for only the second time this month, many thought the Huskies might look a little complacent or rusty in their matchup against the Butler Bulldogs last night. UConn’s response to such allegations? A 103-35 thrashing of their conference opponent.
After a bit of a shaky start, the Huskies (8-0, 7-0 Big East) ran away with this one en route to a 68-point win, their largest margin of victory in the young season, looking about as dominant as they have all year. But how did they do it? By controlling the things they could control and each individual player doing what they do best, in particular the leaders of the team.
“As the leaders, me, [Evina Westbrook] and [Olivia Nelson-Ododa], we started off poorly at the start of last game, so we tried to respond back with a sense of urgency and a different type of intensity this game,” Christyn Williams said. “I feel like we did that on the defensive and offensive ends.”
““As the leaders, me, [Evina Westbrook] and [Olivia Nelson-Ododa], we started off poorly at the start of last game, so we tried to respond back with a sense of urgency and a different type of intensity this game.I feel like we did that on the defensive and offensive ends.”Christyn Williams, Women’s Basketball Team
From the jump it was clearly a team effort by the UConn women. Williams, Nelson-Ododa, Westbrook and Aubrey Griffin — in her first career start — all chipped in at least five points in the first. The only starter who didn’t get on the scoreboard was freshman phenom Paige Bueckers, who instead was happy to go back to her roots as a distributor, ending the quarter with five assists while also chipping in two steals.
The Huskies allowed Butler (1-9, 1-8 Big East) to score 15 on them in the first, headlined by a nine-point quarter by the Bulldog’s Okako Adika, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, Butler had barely doubled their first quarter point total, scoring just 20 points the rest of the way.
The theme of defense leading to offense never looked truer than from the second quarter on, and in the next three of basketball, the Huskies outscored the Bulldogs 78-20 and absolutely took over. All because they did what they are good at.
Nelson-Ododa controlled the paint with her size early and often, scoring 12 points and grabbing three boards in the first half. She would finish the game with a team-high 18 points, three rebounds and two blocks despite not seeing the court at all in the fourth quarter.
Williams added 17 points, three boards and two steals in the game. The biggest difference both she and head coach Geno Auriemma noticed was that she let the offense come to her and found ways to contribute beyond putting the ball in the hoop.
“For the longest time, Christyn wanted to be really good at scoring and really wasn’t that concerned with anything else,” Auriemma said. “These last two or three days, Christyn’s concerned more about ‘I want to be a better defender, I want to get more loose balls, I want to be better in transition,’ whatever the case may be, and the focus has not been I gotta make shots. That’s usually when you start making shots.”
Westbrook continued her stretch of strong play, scoring 14 points on 6-7 shooting and chipping in a game-high three blocks.
Bueckers got herself going through her passing game, ending the game with a game-high eight assists, and with that came her shooting touch, finishing the game with 13 points on 5-8 shooting.
But it was Griffin, in her first career start in a Huskies uniform, who really showed what she was capable of. Ever since her 16-point, 16-rebound performance in the AAC tournament last season, all eyes have been on the sophomore to see if she could recreate that sort of dominance. And safe to say after her game against the Bulldogs that that is in fact the case.
Griffin, usually used as a spark plug off the bench, brought that same energy from the tip and did what she does best: fight on the glass, be strong in the paint and be a pest on defense. Griffin finished the game with 17 points, 10 rebounds (five on the offensive end) and three steals — all either most or second-most on the team — in just 23 minutes. Auriemma loved the effort he saw from the sophomore and hopes to see more of it as the season continues.
“It takes a little bit of time, but when Aubrey gets it going, as you saw, she gets into a nice flow and she just impacts the game in so many ways,” Auriemma said. “I thought Aubrey had another great game tonight, I thought she did a lot of really good things.”
““It takes a little bit of time, but when Aubrey gets it going, as you saw, she gets into a nice flow and she just impacts the game in so many ways.”Geno Auriemma, Head Coach of the UConn Women’s Basketball Team
With an 85-35 lead and just over five minutes left in the game, the Huskies started to clear their benches, but even they were not about to let up the pressure.
On the backs of Anna Makurat, Autumn Chassion, Aaliyah Edwards, Nika Muhl and Piath Gabriel, the Huskies held Butler scoreless in the last five minutes, going on an 18-0 run that saw Chassion, a walk-on, hit her first and second career buckets to seal the victory.
This is the team UConn can be when things are clicking, and this is the team other top opponents should be prepared to face come March, April or whenever the tournament ends up being.
Fans will get a sneak peek into more competitive play this Thursday as the Huskies travel to Tennessee to take on long-time rival and former host to Evina Westbrook in the No. 25 Volunteers. And if UConn looks anything like it did in this one, they are in for an exciting contest.