Most times in Big East play, Aaliyah Edwards is the one leading the charge in the paint and on the boards as the UConn women’s basketball team picks up the win. Against the Providence Friars however, Edwards scored just four points on 2-7 shooting and grabbed four boards in 26 minutes while sitting out the entire second quarter with two fouls.
While she had an off night, matching her season low in points and recording a season low in rebounds, Dorka Juhasz dominated on both ends of the floor in a game where UConn struggled to pull away from the Friars. Without committing a foul in 38 minutes, Juhasz scored 19 points with two threes and grabbed 17 boards as the No. 5 Huskies won another rough game from start to finish, this time in Alumni Hall, 64-54.
Providence played with a lot more aggression after getting embarrassed by 45 in their first meeting at Gampel Pavilion two months ago. The Friars allowed UConn to score the game’s first two points before Olivia Olsen answered with a bucket in the paint to tie the contest. Janai Crooms scored four points in 32 minutes against the Huskies in their first meeting, but she scored that many in less than four minutes after converting a layup and making two free throws.
Despite her contributions, the Friars had no answers for either Lou Lopez Senechal or Nika Muhl throughout the opening frame. Lopez Senechal, who picked up six points against the then 21st-ranked Villanova Wildcats on Sunday as her streak of scoring in double-figures came to a halt after 21 games, scored seven with a triple. Muhl meanwhile recorded five points and five assists as she continued to run the offense like a floor general.
UConn’s offense had been a little slow throughout the first quarter, but once the second quarter began, they seemed to find a groove. Carrying momentum over from a Lopez Senechal three late in the first frame, Muhl kept the run going with a long two before a layup from Juhasz and a floater from Aubrey Griffin led to the Friars taking their first timeout of the game.
Providence kept attacking despite allowing the Huskies to start the frame on an 8-2 run, but Muhl and Juhasz continued to stay in a rhythm offensively throughout the period. By the time the game reached intermission, both Juhasz and Muhl had crossed into double figures and were knocking on the door of a double-double.
Despite UConn going into halftime up 11, the second half is where things got interesting in front of a sold-out crowd. Both teams struggled to do anything offensively in the first five minutes of the second half as Griffin’s jumper and Ayanna Patterson going 1-2 from the free-throw line were the only field points in that stretch. The Friars waited until after the media timeout to get on the board, but that is when they started to chip into the Huskies’ 15-point advantage. Forcing several turnovers in the process, threes from Nariah Scott and Emily Archibald forced head coach Geno Auriemma to call a timeout as they went on a 9-0 run.
Griffin responded immediately out of the timeout by burying a triple, but the offensive struggles persisted as the third quarter concluded in a game far from over. UConn caught a second win on offense in the fourth quarter and started the frame on a 9-2 run, making it look like they were about to pull away from Providence for another blowout win.
But the Friars were not done fighting yet. Down 17, Olsen made her second floater of the quarter to spark a team-wide 13-2 run and make it a three-possession game with three minutes to go. With all of the momentum on their side, Providence had the chance to earn a massive upset against the Huskies.
Edwards could not convert a jumper on UConn’s first possession following the timeout, but after Crooms missed a layup on the other end, Juhasz cut into the lane to extend the lead to double digits for good. Griffin scored the Huskies’ last bucket and iced the game the best way she could, grabbing her own blocked shot before beating out the shot clock with a tough two.
Olsen made one more layup and Crooms forced a turnover in the final 45 seconds, but it would be too little too late as UConn ran out the clock for another close victory in the Ocean State. With the win, the Huskies have now won 33 straight games against the Friars dating back to 1994.
Muhl, who was named a candidate to the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation’s best point guard on Monday, finished just shy of her second-career double-double with 11 points and nine assists. Lopez Senechal ended her one-game drought of not scoring in double figures with 13 points while Griffin had as many with six rebounds to boot. Even though they committed 20 turnovers and allowed five offensive boards, UConn shot 50.9% from the field and led for all but 29 seconds.
Providence had three players score in double figures with Olsen’s 13 points and four blocks leading the way. Crooms and Scott each finished with 11 as the former led the team with eight boards while the latter went 3-5 from beyond the arc. Despite keeping it close, the Friars shot 35.8% from the field and got outscored in the paint 32-18.
The Huskies (21-2, 13-0 Big East) return to a sold-out XL Center for their biggest match of the regular season as they host the top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday, February 5. This is a rematch of last season’s national title game, one where UConn finished as national runners-up for the first time in program history while the Gamecocks won their second national championship. Tipoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Fox.