Coming into Sunday’s matinee versus the No. 10 UConn Huskies, the Providence College Friars were ranked No. 161 in the NET rankings. As the classic football saying goes, anything can happen on any given Sunday.
“[The effort] was lousy,” Coach Geno Auriemma noted. “Usually when you’re playing lousy on defense, you’re going to have trouble getting offense. I think there’s a strong correlation between how much effort you put in defensively to your offense. I thought Providence’s guards were able to make things happen. That’s what kept them in it for the whole time.”
It seemed like the game was trending in the direction of an upset early, as the Friars were successfully able to gunk things up quickly. The Huskies rely on smooth offense to get open looks, but Providence’s stingy defense was having none of it, especially with UConn grad student Dorka Juhasz out with a stress-reaction. In a sluggish start, UConn got off to an eight point advantage early in the second quarter, but an 11-3 run by the Friars tied things up.
Seconds later, UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards kicked the ball out to guard Christyn Williams, who sunk a three to put the Huskies ahead for good. One minute and several misses later, Williams hit the back end of a pair of free throws. Evina Westbrook got a steal and Olivia Nelson-Ododa took it inside for an easy layup. Freshman sensation Caroline Ducharme then got a fastbreak layup off of Edwards’ feed, which was followed by a deep Azzi Fudd triple. This completed a 11-0 run going into halftime for the Huskies
As much as it looked like UConn was going to blow the doors open in the third, the Friars did a great job keeping things from getting out of hand. The Huskies weren’t able to get the lead greater than 14 in the third quarter. With one minute left in the period, Providence’s Olivia Olsen drained a layup off of a Kylee Sheppard assist. Providence drew a Williams charge and then Janai Crooms hit a few free throws to close the lead to eight at the end of the quarter.
Back to back Nelson-Ododa and Ducharme layups pushed the Huskies lead to 14, but Janai Crooms added to her phenomenal 27-point night with a three. Westbrook then answered with a triple of her own from the Nelson-Ododa kick out. Williams and Westbrook hit back to back shots to extend the Husky lead to 17, but Providence’s Sheppard and Nairah Scott hit two layups to cut the lead back to thirteen. A Crooms free throw and a layup and an Olsen layup cut things to eight, but it wasn’t enough for the Friars, as the Huskies came out victorious 69-61.
The biggest shiner for UConn was Williams, who scored 19 points, grabbed seven boards and dished out four assists. Williams was incredibly efficient, getting her buckets on 8-12 shooting. Williams was the only Husky to play all forty minutes, with her efforts much needed for the win. Another impressive aspect of her performance was her 2-3 shooting from deep, which was a team best.
“I think [Williams] has been one of the bright spots,” Auriemma said. “She really had it going before COVID and then she had to take the break because of COVID. Since she’s come back, she’s been really good. She’s at her best when she’s being aggressive and not settling. I think she’s in a really good place right now.”
Edwards was also a positive contributor for UConn. In 32 minutes, Edwards added nine points, six rebounds and five assists on 4-5 shooting.
“I thought the offense was kind of stagnant, we didn’t get the kind of flow we’re used to,” Auriemma noted. “I think Aaliyah was patient enough and found the right cutter or person at the right time. Her aggressiveness is what’s important.”
The Huskies line up to take on Creighton next in Omaha, Neb. at 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday.