The No. 2 University of Connecticut women’s basketball team traveled down to the Bahamas to participate in the first ever women’s basketball Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament this past weekend.
Their first test was the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who were led by Sara Scalia and Jasmine Powell. UConn had everything running for them as they started the game on a 12-0 run that was mainly led by Christyn Williams. Minnesota would fight their way back to only be down by six after one quarter of play. Minnesota cut their deficit against the Huskies to one with around five minutes to play in the first half, but the Huskies closed out the first half with a 16-2 run to take a commanding halftime lead.
The Huskies were not done just yet as they shut out the Golden Gophers for almost six minutes of the third quarter while growing their margin even further. Minnesota would score just eight points in the third quarter and then piled on 15 more in the fourth, but it would not be enough as the Huskies took the first game in the tournament 88-58.
Scalia did as much as she could with 17 points, 15 of which came from downtown, but limiting Powell to just five points on 1-10 shooting just comes to show how strong the Huskies were defensively.
On the other end, it was the Christyn Williams show as she put up a whopping 31 points while shooting 12-14 from the field. Head coach Geno Auriemma commented afterwards that “If we can get Christyn to be like that most nights we’ll be a really tough team to play against”.
The following day, the Huskies took on their first ranked opponent of the season in the No. 23 USF Bulls, a team that previously dismantled Syracuse by 24. Like the previous contest, UConn jumped out to an early lead, but unlike Minnesota, the Bulls were neck and neck in the first quarter, tying the contest and being down by one for the latter part of the quarter.
UConn would dominate the second quarter behind consistent buckets by Williams and Azzi Fudd while holding on to their sizeable margin for the entire quarter. But USF was not going to go away quietly as they charged back and took the lead with 1:15 left in the third quarter after a rare Huskies scoring drought. Bueckers would hit a three-pointer to tie this contest heading into the final ten minutes of play.
Both teams battled, but UConn got the lead on a 5-0 run within the first two minutes and never looked back, outscoring the Bulls 15-8 to take the semifinal round by a score of 60-53. Instead of Williams dominating the court, it was the freshman Fudd, who scored 18 points on six three-pointers. Although she made six shots from long range, Auriemma mentioned how “This is probably the worst you’re ever going to see Azzi”. Fudd has tremendous upside and showed how special of a player she could be with this performance. Bueckers, who’s streak without a turnover ended in the second quarter, led the way with 21 points including an incredible corner three-pointer, one of three she made the entire game.
UConn’s final test would be the only team ahead of them in the AP polls in No. 1 South Carolina. The Gamecocks had made quick work of No. 9 Oregon in their semifinal game. In their last meeting back on February 8, UConn topped the Gamecocks in an instant classic in Storrs.
South Carolina started the game with a 6-0 run behind buckets by Zia Cooke and Aliyah Boston, but the Huskies got rolling early as they went on a 20-2 run that spanned most of the first quarter. The Gamecocks would score six more points unanswered to only be down by six after ten minutes of play.
UConn continued to pressure South Carolina throughout the second quarter and would be up by as much as 13 after Evina Westbrook made some critical free throws. South Carolina would not let them get too comfortable as they sized the margin down to just three points, ending the half on a 4-0 run.
The Gamecocks then took the lead back in the third quarter off the heels of some untimely UConn turnovers, but the Huskies and Gamecocks would keep on fighting to determine who would be the victor. After continually going back and forth, South Carolina had a three-point lead in what could have been a close contest.
That’s when things changed as South Carolina would blow the game wide open and take home the championship with a commanding 73-57 victory. UConn was limited to just three points in the final frame on 1-10 shooting.
Although the Huskies had that incredible run in the first quarter, South Carolina controlled most of the game. They outrebounded the Huskies 42-25, outscored them 17-2 on second chances, and 36-24 in the paint.
After the loss, Auriemma commented how “for 30 minutes, we played exactly how we wanted to play…then we ran out of gas. We fell apart.” Bueckers led the way for the Huskies with 19 points while Westbrook and Williams also finished with double digits. Boston led South Carolina with 22 points and 15 rebounds while Cooke had 17 points of her own.
Despite the Huskies’ shortcomings, this is only round one between the two powerhouses. The two will meet again on January 27 in South Carolina and it should be an absolute showdown. “The team you saw today could be a completely different team … We’re going to have to work really, really hard for that to happen” commented Auriemma.
The Huskies (3-1) open Big East play on Friday, December 3, when they travel to South Orange, New Jersey to take on the Seton Hall Pirates. The game is available on SNY as well as the UConn Sports Network.