On Thursday, Feb. 25, with a chance to take home the Big East regular season crown for the first time since 2011, the No. 1 ranked UConn Huskies (19-1, 16-0 Big East) earned a convincing 81-49 victory over the Creighton Blue Jays (7-10, 6-7 Big East). UConn has solidified their place as the top team in the Big East (and perhaps college basketball) with two games left to play this season.
The defensive strategy for Creighton entering Thursday’s contest was to get the ball out of Paige Buecker’s hands and make someone else make shots. For UConn, that someone was Nika Muhl. Despite having scored only 10 total points in the past four games, the freshman guard made the Blue Jays pay for their sagging defense, scoring 15 first quarter points with three 3-pointers and 3 steals to give the Huskies a 27-13 lead. Muhl’s special performance appeared to galvanize the rest of the team, and they responded by outscoring Creighton by 54-36 the rest of the way.
After the game, head coach Geno Auriemma was uncharacteristically satisfied with his team’s performance. This chipperness likely stemmed from its significance in the standings. “[Winning your conference] is always goal number one,” he said. “It proves that you’re the best team in the league that you play in.”
Nika Muhl finished the game with a career-high 19 points (her previous career-high was 11) and led all players with 38 minutes played. Auriemma, who inserted the freshman into the lineup for her toughness and strong defense, provided a simple explanation for her offensive explosion: “She’s not afraid.”
Spoken like a true Auriemma disciple, Muhl herself credited her career-best scoring output to three things: “Practice, practice, practice.”
The rest of Auriemma’s squad all found ways to contribute. Six players scored at least 9 points, while Olivia Nelson-Ododa (11 points, 11 rebounds), Paige Bueckers (13 points, 9 assists) and Christyn Williams (16 points) were particularly solid. The balanced scoring effort was nothing but good news for Auriemma, who said “I liked that we weren’t so dependent on one or two players to score for us.”
Though 13 points is the fewest Bueckers has scored since UConn’s Jan. 19 battle with Butler, she has now tallied 9 or more assists in three of the last four games. In fact, Auriemma was only encouraged that Bueckers was still able to contribute to a win despite not scoring her usual 20+ points. He said, “Paige is one of those kids that would rather get you a [basket] than get herself one. That says a lot about her and that’s part of the reason our team is number one in the country.”
With two games left on the schedule, UConn is looking to remain in that coveted No. 1 spot in college basketball. Their next contest will be on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern when they take on Butler in their final road game of the season.