On a sunny and frigid Saturday afternoon in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, the No. 9 UConn Huskies women’s basketball team took on the Xavier University Musketeers and won in convincing fashion, 78-41. The contest started out ugly with five straight possessions without a point, consisting of missed shots and turnovers for both sides. Finally, senior guard Christyn Williams received a pass on the wing and drained a three, breaking the drought. Freshman wing Caroline Ducharme hit two at the stripe, Olivia Nelson-Ododa got a putback, and Williams got an easy fastbreak layup and a tough-and-one. All of a sudden, it was 11-0 Huskies.
“When you’re playing games like these, you have to almost have a game plan,” coach Geno Auriemma noted. “You have to go in and say ‘What do I want to get done today?’ And if you do that, I think you can be pretty successful.”
Xavier finally answered by breaking the press for an easy layup, but that momentum was swiftly snuffed by a Ducharme triple. The three was part of a UConn 12-5 run, which was reduced to 12-7 after Xavier beat the first quarter buzzer on a layup. In the first period, the Huskies were defensively dominant, collecting three blocks and five steals and only fouling once.
The second quarter began sloppily for both sides, with the teams only scoring four points apiece in the first four minutes. However, with just over five minutes left in the section, Williams got on the fastbreak and threaded the needle to Ducharme, who put in a tough layup. On the other end, Nelson-Ododa rejected Xavier’s Shaila Beeler’s shot, collected the board and found Williams. Williams then pushed the ball to Ducharme, who knocked in a three to extend the lead to 37-17 and force a Musketeer timeout.
A few scoreless plays later, guard Nika Muhl got a steal and maneuvered through the defense for an acrobatic Euro step layup which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Xavier threw it out of bounds and on the other end, Nelson-Ododa delivered a soft post hook. Aaliyah Edwards then got in on the fun, draining a mid-range shot for her second bucket of the game. Xavier finally broke the 6-0 run with an easy jumper, but Nelson-Ododa again came up big with an and-one layup to send the Huskies to the break, up 48-23.
Ducharme began the second half just as hot as the first, hitting an in-rhythm three. She then grabbed a steal and dished it ahead to Williams for a transition layup. A few messy plays, including three Xavier airballs, gave way to a UConn fastbreak. Williams received a pass under the basket which was difficult to corral. She dished it to Juhasz behind her back, who put in the easy layup. Muhl then got a steal and saved it to Edwards, who then put in the easy bunny. After five scoreless minutes, Beeler finally knocked in a jumper to respond to the 9-0 Husky run.
Evina Westbrook hit a corner three, then Muhl hit the ground for a steal on defense during a play where a Xavier player was injured. Muhl gave it up to Westbrook, who took it to the hole herself for the easy two. No points were scored in the final 2:45 of the third quarter, giving the Huskies a 62-29 lead going into the fourth.
Piath Gabriel had a dominant start to the final quarter, hitting four straight post-up hooks to bring her season point total up to 10. The Huskies closed out the game relatively smoothly with a number of blocks, ultimately winning 78-41.
“The thing that was always impressive about Connecticut basketball from my standpoint was always that we’re going to do the same thing every night, regardless of who we play,” Auriemma noted. “It doesn’t matter if we play the worst team in the league on Tuesday and then play the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday; we’re going to do the exact same things.”
Nelson-Ododa had a career night in a number of ways, wreaking havoc on both ends of the floor. The big had 11 points, six rebounds, four assists, eight blocks and five steals, completely stuffing the stat sheet. It was the best she’s looked defensively this season — a performanceshe will hopefully duplicate. “Blocking shots has been a point of emphasis in practice,” Nelson-Ododa said. “Things are kind of clicking for us now.”
Ducharme Continues to Roll — Ducharme has been on a tear as of late, notching 14 or more points in her past five outings. Saturday was her second time surpassing the 20 point mark, going along with seven rebounds and five assists. “There’s times when you forget [Ducharme] is a freshman.” Auriemma noted. “To be a senior, you have to be productive. It has to be a given what you’re going to produce every night. Caroline is acting like one of the seniors, which is pretty unusual for a freshman.”
Defensive Clinic —The Huskies did excellent on the defensive end, blocking 16 shots and collecting 15 steals against an overmatched Musketeers squad. It felt like every single time down, UConn was bound to get a rejection or swipe the ball away, making it a very frustrating 40 minutes for Xavier. Nelson-Ododa led UConn in both defensive categories.
The Huskies will look to continue their excellent play against stiffer competition against Oregon in Eugene on Monday, who began the season ranked No. 10 and has been plagued by injuries.