A Caroline Ducharme block started Wednesday’s contest between the UConn Huskies and the Butler University Bulldogs. That first play alone perfectly encapsulated the tone of the game, with UConn blocking Butler’s hopes of any sort of competitive matchup en route to a 92-47 Husky win.
Soon after, grad transfer Dorka Juhász swiped the ball from Butler following an unsuccessful post up. The teams traded missed threes and on the ensuing fastbreak, Christyn Williams dished the ball to a leaking Ducharme who put through a tough layup. The Huskies would never relinquish that lead, jumping out to a 9-0 advantage in a contest that never really felt close.
After that horrid start for Butler, the Bulldogs managed to make a little run, pushing the score to 19-9 UConn with 1:53 to play in the first quarter after an Alex Richard jumper. After that, the wheels completely fell off. Ducharme extended the lead to 25-9 after back-to-back 3s to close out the first. Her hot hand was then transferred to Williams, who took a nice inside pass from senior forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa and finished an easy layup. Butler threw the ball out of bounds and on the next play, Williams hit an easy 3.
Consecutive layups by Nelson-Ododa and Juhász pushed the lead to 25 and a missed 3 by Evina Westbrook gave way to an offensive rebound by Williams, who put it up and back in. This completed a 17-0 run for the Huskies that included five Butler turnovers.
The remainder of the second and the third quarter served more of the same, seeing sophomore Nika Muhl hit the ground multiple times diving for loose balls and Nelson-Ododa explode for a mixture of points in the paint and jumpers against the inferior Butler bigs. Sophomore Aaliyah Edwards also chipped in in the third period, adding four points on two layups.
Although it didn’t matter, the fourth quarter was one to forget for the Huskies, as seemingly every single shot rimmed out. Perhaps it was due to a lack of interest, but the Bulldogs closed the contest on a 14-7 run, a span that saw freshman Amari DeBerry shoot six field goals and miss all of them. The Huskies’ last basket came from sophomore Piath Gabriel, who knocked in her first shot of the season to close out a 92-47 blowout in the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“We have a lot more talent than Butler,” Coach Geno Auriemma noted bluntly. “I think Kurt [Godlevske] would be the first one to tell you that. And there are some games you win just because you’re more talented. There were minutes today where we played like we were more talented. But there were 37 minutes where the game was played the way we wanted it to be played regardless of who the opponent was and that hasn’t happened in awhile. After the Creighton game, I made a point to say to our three seniors, ‘there’s no easy way to say this: we need more from you guys; you need to perform better.’”
One thing has been a constant since star guard Westbrook has transferred to UConn: She has started every game. That streak remained true until this contest, where Muhl displaced her in the starting five. Even with the sixth-man role, she still got starter’s minutes, while notching 14 points and four assists.
“If [Nika’s] going to be limited to some minutes for some time, why sit her on the bench and give her spotty minutes?” said Auriemma. “Why not start her and see what we got that day. She’s going to bring tremendous energy, defensive intensity, she’s going to push the ball up the floor harder, so all the things she did last year for us, you noticed that right away with her today. We also weren’t getting any offense off the bench, so I think Evina can be somebody who brings offense off the bench and can jump start some things if it’s not going well.”
UConn passed the ball around with a purpose, totaling 25 assists on the night to Butler’s nine. Nelson-Ododa, DeBerry, and Muhl all led the way in that department, dishing out five each.
Thanks to the Huskies’ excellent pressure on the defensive end, it felt like Butler had more turnovers than a good bakery, giving the ball away a stunning 27 times on the night. This number includes 19 steals, seven of which came from Williams, a career-high for her. Auriemma noted, “I thought today [Williams] had a huge impact on the game in a way that she hasn’t all season.”
UConn plays next this Saturday at the XL Center against Xavier. The game is set to tip at noon (EST).