Nine months ago, Lou Lopez Senechal transferred to the University of Connecticut after four strong years with the Fairfield Stags. During the first five days of summer school in June, head coach Geno Auriemma realized that someone who started games last season would lose their spot in order to fit her into the rotation.
Since the season began, Lopez Senechal has been a big contributor on offense, especially with the injuries that the backcourt has sustained over the past two months. Against the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday, she continued to shine under the Storrs spotlight with one of her more complete performances. In 27 minutes, Lopez Senechal scored 17 points, 14 in the first half, grabbed seven rebounds and racked up five assists.
“I do not know where we would be without her,” Auriemma said about Lopez Senechal after the game. “She might be our MVP.”
Lopez Senechal finished as one of three players with 17 or more points as the No. 5 UConn women’s basketball team overcame a rough first quarter to sweep the Bulldogs 79-39. With the victory, the Huskies are the first team to reach double-digit wins in Big East play.
The game initially started as a carbon copy of UConn’s contest against the Georgetown Hoyas last Sunday. After surrendering the game’s first two buckets in the first 75 seconds, Butler burst out to a 13-0 run in four minutes while missing just one of their shot attempts. At the same time, a tough defense forced the Huskies to commit four turnovers and play some sloppy basketball.
“You could see it coming,” Auriemma said of the first-quarter run, “We missed wide open shots. We were standing around doing nothing.”
But following the media timeout, UConn went from playing some of its worst basketball to some of their best. The Huskies spent the rest of the first quarter struggling to make shots as they cut into the nine-point deficit, but then things started to click and the team found themselves in a rhythm.
UConn dominated on both sides of the ball throughout the second quarter, outscoring the Bulldogs 26-6, limiting them to one field goal (a three) and forcing six turnovers with just one steal. While Aubrey Griffin scored the go-ahead bucket for the Huskies, both Lopez Senechal and Aaliyah Edwards individually outscored Butler by themselves in the frame. Lopez Senechal also contributed defensively, grabbing three rebounds, a block and a steal to go along with her 12 points.
That momentum, which propelled UConn from down three to up 17 at the break, carried over into the second half as Butler’s offensive struggles persisted. The third quarter provided a series of highlight-reel plays for the Huskies as Nika Muhl dished a behind-the-back pass to Dorka Juhasz and came up with a scoop-and-score while Griffin rammed through two defenders for a bucket and drew the foul with it.
On the flip side, the Bulldogs could not get any of their shots to fall to begin the second half. A technical foul on head coach Austin Parkinson momentarily sparked Butler’s offense as Sydney Jaynes made the team’s first two since the first quarter and the team drained two more threes.
However, UConn’s offense stretched the lead wider and wider with every possession. Amari DeBerry’s fourth triple of the season was the icing on the cake in the final frame, one where two players scored all nine of the Bulldogs’ points, as the Huskies’ winning streak reached 10 games, nine of which have come in conference play.
Griffin lit up the scoreboard in the second half with 12 points, half of which came from the charity stripe, while finishing with 17 points and seven boards. Edwards led all players with 20 points and three blocks, finishing three rebounds shy of a double-double, while Juhasz picked up 14 with two rejections. UConn finished with 11 turnovers, its third fewest in a game this season.
“She has had an All-American-type season and we are going to need her more than ever these next 11 days,” Auriemma commented.
Jessica Carrothers and Sydney Jaynes finished with seven points apiece for Butler despite combining to make five field goals. While the Bulldogs drained seven threes and three in the first quarter, Anna Mortag was the only player to make more than one, which led to all six of her points.
The Huskies (17-2, 10-0 Big East) face several tough opponents over the next 11 days, and it starts on Monday with a home matchup against the DePaul Blue Demons (11-9, 4-5 Big East). Initially scheduled for Jan. 8, this game was postponed because UConn had six healthy players, one less than the NCAA requirement. The Blue Demons enter losing five out of their last six after a 3-0 start in conference play, but they are not to be taken lightly.
While Fudd was the top high school recruit amongst the current sophomore class, Aneesah Morrow is the country’s best sophomore. Morrow is second in the conference with 25.2 PPG, 3.2 points behind the nation’s leading scorer Maddy Siegrist. Put that together with her 11.9 boards per game and she has the numbers of a First Team All-American.
Sonya Morris and Deja Church may be gone, but both Darrione Rogers (18.5 PPG and 108 assists) and Kendall Holmes (10.2 PPG, 42.7% from the field and downtown) have significantly improved during their junior seasons to lead the backcourt. On top of those two, Anaya Peoples (9.0 PPG) is the team’s floor general and is second on the team in both steals and assists.
Even though the Huskies have won all of their conference games so far, this will be a tough task regardless of how many players are available.
“You [have] got to be ready for anything when you play those guys,” Auriemma explained.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on SNY.