In one of their most complete games of the season, UConn looked dominant from tip to finish against the Musketeers. And on the back of some stellar defense, as well as some offensive firepower from new and old faces, the Huskies (18-1, 15-0 Big East) are leaving Cincinnati with a convincing 83-32 victory. For junior captain Christyn Williams, it’s become clear that after an up-and-down start to the season, the team is finally starting to hit their stride.
“I feel like this is a great spot that we’re in,” Williams said. “Earlier on in the season we had bumps in the road dealing with COVID and everything and it messed with us mentally a little bit. But now that we’ve gotten on a roll and played consecutive games in a row, we’re getting our flow. I feel like that’s helping everybody play their role and constantly getting better, so we’re in a good spot.”
The first quarter was everything head coach Geno Auriemma could’ve hoped for from his team. UConn hit 60% of their shots and got assists on 10 of their 12 first-quarter buckets. The surprise of the first was Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who stuffed the stat sheet early, racking up eight points, five rebounds and four assists in just the first frame. The junior would play just seven minutes in the second half and end the game with an impressive 11/8/6 stat line.
On the defensive end, the Huskies let Nia Clark — Xavier’s leading scorer from the two teams’ first meeting — score six points, but every other Musketeer was held scoreless, shooting a combined 0-10. This was the second-consecutive and sixth total game where UConn held their opponent to under 10 points in the opening quarter.
“I think we got to where we weren’t really focusing on the score and we were just having fun out there as a team,” Aaliyah Edwards said of their defensive effort. “Once we got steals on defense and started moving off of that momentum we were just playing together [and] you could see our dynamic through that, so it was really fun.”
The offense backed off a bit in the following two quarters for most of the Huskies, but Williams never took her foot off the glass, scoring 16 of her game-high 22 points in the second and third quarter. The junior has seen a complete turnaround in her play this month, and after starting the month scoring a combined six points in her first two games, has averaged just under 21 in her last three. Williams said she has finally turned a corner mentally that has allowed her to go back to putting up major points on a regular basis.
“I’m in a good space mentally, I’ve gotten my confidence back,” Williams said. “[There] was a lot going on but I’m a lot better and just trying to keep the momentum going forward.”
The other star of the second half was Edwards. In her first time playing against Xavier back in mid-December, the freshman put up 11 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes of play. But in her second go around, Edwards looked dominant against a smaller Musketeers team, totaling 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds for her first double double of the season.
Being able to play either Edwards and Nelson-Ododa alongside one another or separately has been a major contributor to the team’s success thus far, and something Auriemma said they haven’t had in years past.
“It’s obviously a huge benefit to have two post players that can both play together [and complement each other,” Auriemma said. “They have different skill sets so it’s something that we didn’t have last year, and you can see the difference that it’s made.”
A name yet to be mentioned is Paige Bueckers, who looked borderline human in this matchup. In her 30 minutes of play, the freshman scored her second fewest points on the season (11) and shot under 40% from the field for just the second time all year. She did rack up seven assists to balance out her day, but a slight ankle roll in the opening quarter may have had something to do with her discomfort.
Luckily for Bueckers and the team, UConn gets to rest up a bit before they head to Nebraska in a rematch against Creighton on Thursday, Feb. 25. But if that game is anything like Saturday’s, the team won’t have much to worry about as the season nears a close.