Earlier this month, the No. 9 UConn women’s basketball team played essentially one and a half games with seven players available as Dorka Juhasz recovered from a broken thumb, Azzi Fudd had a knee injury and Nika Muhl was in concussion protocol. Although both Juhasz and Muhl have since returned to action, head coach Geno Auriemma missed his second straight contest as he continues to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms. Auriemma is not expected to return to the team until at least early next week.
In his absence, Chris Dailey improved to 15-0 as the acting head coach as the Huskies bested the Seton Hall Pirates 98-73 in a resumption of Big East play. After a close victory against the Florida State Seminoles in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase on Sunday, this conference contest helped UConn build momentum with a short holiday recess around the corner.
“I think it is a good way for our team to go into the break,” Dailey said in the postgame press conference.
Not even Auriemma’s absence fazed the Huskies in the opening five minutes as they went on a 10-0 run behind two field goals by Aubrey Griffin. That run ultimately became a 20-8 stretch by the end of the first quarter as UConn limited the Pirates to just 21% shooting from the field.
While known as a floor general for her ability to generate assists and draw tough fouls, Muhl lit up the court as she made each of her first three shots from long range, the first of which helped the Huskies build a lead they never looked back on. Her three threes in the frame exceeded the number of threes she made in any of the other nine games she has played this season.
“I don’t think you can underestimate her value,” Dailey said about Muhl. “She is our energy.”
Even with Muhl converting another three in the second quarter, Caroline Ducharme and Aaliyah Edwards took over the frame with eight points apiece. Coming off the bench, Ducharme got involved everywhere she went, whether it was grabbing a defensive rebound or making two threes. Edwards continued attacking the rim, getting all of her points in the paint while finishing the first half with four boards.
Sidney Cooks had herself a strong first half to help with Seton Hall’s scoring, which improved as the game went along. On top of scoring from the paint four different times, Cooks drained two threes on consecutive shot attempts and proved why she was a Preseason All-Big East Team selection.
Despite UConn having a 22-point lead at the break, the XL Center quieted to a pulp when Griffin hit the court hard after trying to grab a rebound at the beginning of the third quarter. Although she checked out afterward, Griffin proved that the worst had been avoided when she returned to a thunderous applause and subsequently scored on the fast break.
Even without Griffin, the offense continued to succeed behind a 7-0 run in less than a minute. Edwards continued her stretch of dominance by scoring nine points in the third quarter, garnering two boards and two assists along the way. Lou Lopez Senechal extended her offensive spree as well, adding seven points on top of the five she had in the second.
While the game had already been decided before the final frame started, both Amari DeBerry and Ayanna Patterson got on the board and made two free throws in the process. After making just two field goals through the first three quarters, Park-Lane drained two-threes and went 3-6 from the field as the Preseason All-Big East Team selection found her offensive touch. Despite her efforts, Seton Hall found themselves on the losing end for the 36th consecutive meeting against the Huskies dating back to 1994.
Edwards led all scorers with 23 points, marking the third straight contest in which she has scored more than 20 points. Despite having three less blocks than she did on Sunday, Juhasz scored 10 points and had 11 boards for her second double-double of the year. Muhl finished with 16 points and 11 assists for her first career double-double.
Ducharme finished with 16 points off the bench while shooting 6-8 from the field and collecting five rebounds. Even with her second double-digit performance in three games, Ducharme knows that she is continuing her uphill climb this season.
“I think the last two games have helped, but I am still not where I want to be,” Ducharme said. “I still have a long way to go.”
The only negative Dailey highlighted in the team’s performance, the third time this season where the Huskies have scored exactly 98 points, was in keeping possession of the ball. Even with Muhl back on the floor for the second time in four days, the 22 turnovers marked the fourth straight game in which UConn gave the opposition an extra possession more than 20 times.
This game also served as a homecoming for Seton Hall freshman and East Hartford native Shailyn Pinkney. When introduced in the starting lineups and when converting her lone shot attempt of the game, a three-pointer in the second quarter, Pinkney received a warm round of applause from the Hartford crowd.
Cooks led the Pirates with 18 points while Park-Lane collected 17 despite shooting 5-21 from the field. Seton Hall, despite getting outplayed in most categories, played tough in transition as they forced 10 steals and scored 18 points off of turnovers.
The Huskies (9-2, 2-0 Big East) will now have the weekend off to celebrate the holidays, but after Christmas on Sunday, the road ahead will not be smooth. Next on the docket is an important trip to Omaha, Nebraska as UConn takes on the No. 21 Creighton Blue Jays, a team ranked as high as 16th in the AP poll this season, on December 28.