The stage was set: the UConn women’s basketball team, now ranked No. 9, set to square off with the Oregon Ducks for the fifth time ever. The last time these two teams went toe-to-toe, the Ducks, led by Ruthy Hebard’s 22 points, defeated the Huskies in Gampel Pavilion. Evina Westbrook, who grew up an hour away from Oregon’s campus, was looking forward to a homecoming game similar to Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s against Georgia Tech.
Then, bam! Christyn Williams, who had scored double figures in her last six games, was ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols. To ease any potential concerns, the team had known this since Sunday and Williams likely did not travel with the team. The Huskies were now down to three guards available.
“It’s another unfortunate blow to an already challenging season,” head coach Geno Auriemma commented in response to Williams’ absence. With current COVID-19 protocols, it is unsure whether Williams will return in five or ten days.
The absence of Williams appeared to not faze the Huskies at the beginning of the game, as they roared to a ferocious 10-0 lead in the first three minutes behind layups by Caroline Ducharme and Nelson-Ododa. However, that would not be enough, with the Ducks waking up immediately and responding with two quick 3-point shots.
After such an astounding start, UConn was limited to four points the rest of the quarter while Oregon rallied to take a one-point lead behind Te-Hina Paopao, who always found a way through the paint.
The Huskies had been in this situation before, down against a competitive team with a lot of game left to play. However, once the second quarter began, the wheels began to fall off for the Huskies. In six minutes and 35 seconds of gameplay between both quarters, Oregon scored 18 unanswered points.
Nothing was working for the Huskies, and not even two timeouts within two minutes could not stop the bleeding as the Ducks consistently hit nothing but net while capitalizing off several rebounds and UConn turnovers. UConn pulled close on a layup by Ducharme, but Oregon’s lead would reach 15 by the halfway mark.
UConn had 17 rebounds after the first half, but were shooting 37% from the field, including a dismal 29.4% shooting in the first quarter, and had yet to sink a 3-pointer on eight tries.
“Once we stopped scoring, we got a little demoralized,” Auriemma commented about the team’s play throughout the entire game, especially in the first half.
UConn tried to keep it close in the third quarter behind Ducharme and Westbrook, but an 8-0 run by the Ducks late in the frame ballooned the lead to 23 points. Turnovers contributed to the sizeable lead as UConn went from committing nine in the second quarter to five in the third.
The Huskies were going to keep fighting, but the Ducks were becoming too much to handle, especially after letting them shoot over 60% from the field for the second consecutive quarter.
In the fourth quarter, neither team could score for over two minutes as shots were hard to come by on either side of the court. UConn tried everything they could to cut into the lead, including shooting 50% from the field, but Oregon had built up a lead with no chance of a comeback.
After an incredible start to the game, the next best moment for the Huskies was closing out the game on a 7-0 run. Unfortunately, it did not matter in the end as the Ducks went on the win 72-59. Don’t let the score fool you; at times, this game was massively in favor of the Ducks.
“Our guard play is not good, plain and simple,” Auriemma explained simply when describing the team’s overall performance. The Huskies finished 3-18 from beyond the arc with 19 turnovers. “The games are won or lost by our guards. … Sometimes basketball is not that complicated.”
Oregon had no problems with their guard play as Paopao dropped 22 points on 7-17 shooting, her third consecutive game with 20-plus points, and eight rebounds. In addition to Paopao, Sedona Prince had herself another memorable performance off the bench, finishing with 14 points on a whopping 6-9 shooting clip.
In her return home to the state of Oregon, Westbrook finished with eight points on a disappointing 3-10 shooting, five rebounds and three assists.
Ducharme had herself another great game, leading the team with 22 points, but she did it on 10-21 shooting and went 1-8 from 3-point range. Both she and Nika Muhl, who finished with three points and six rebounds, played the entire game.
A big positive from this game was Nelson-Ododa. In the second quarter, she picked up her 1,000th career point, becoming the 50th Husky to do so. Nelson-Ododa had one of her best games of the season, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists. In 33 minutes, Nelson-Ododa shot 7-9 from the field, a major improvement from her last matchup against the Ducks when she had eight points, six rebounds and six assists.
“I thought Liv did a lot of really good things and I would say the difference is night and day from when we played them last time,” Auriemma noted when describing Nelson-Ododa’s performance.
The Huskies played with three guards but could be getting some massive help at that position, and soon. Auriemma reported good news on Azzi Fudd and “hopefully little by little, we’ll get her out on the court.”
The Huskies (9-4, 3-0 Big East) have some tough competition around the corner as they take on the Seton Hall Pirates in a rematch on Friday, Jan. 21, at Gampel. The game will be broadcast on SNY with live stats provided by StatBroadcast.