During her four years with the UConn women’s basketball team, Dayton Flyers head coach Tamika Williams-Jeter went 136-9 with 10.6 career points, 5.8 career rebounds and two national titles. Senior forward Aaliyah Edwards exceeded Williams-Jeter’s career marks in one game as the Huskies opened the 2023-24 season with a 102-58 victory over the Flyers at the XL Center.
In 23 minutes, Edwards scored 23 points and hauled in nine rebounds, finishing one shy of her first double-double since the 2023 Big East Championship game in early March. With Dorka Juhasz in the WNBA, head coach Geno Auriemma expects consistency from the senior forward in the frontcourt throughout the 2023-24 season.
“I want that to be somewhat of an average game for her going forward,” said Auriemma after the game. “I thought she was aggressive the entire time she was out there.”
Edwards attracted most of the attention on the final scoresheet, but most of the hype heading into the season opener revolved around redshirt junior Paige Bueckers, who received the loudest applause from the Hartford crowd out of anyone in the starting lineup. Bueckers finished with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists in her first official contest since the 2022 national championship game, enjoying every second of the 20:37 that she spent on the court in the XL Center.
“Super excited and grateful to be back out on the court with my girls,” commented the redshirt junior guard.
Basketball contests typically begin with the opening tip-off, but junior guard Azzi Fudd gave the Huskies a 2-0 lead before that even happened because of an administrative technical foul on the Dayton side. Still winning the opening tip-off, Connecticut took the momentum from that sequence and opened the game on a 16-5 run behind junior guard Caroline Ducharme’s two three-pointers.
The Flyers pulled within seven out of the first media timeout behind two triples, but with freshman KK Arnold making her collegiate debut and displaying the energy that her teammates talked so much about before the season, the Huskies started widening the gap. Junior guard Ivy Wolf threw up a one-handed prayer that went in from near the three-point line with 2:20 left in the first, but Bueckers answered right back with one from almost the exact same spot on the other end of the court. That started a 13-2 Connecticut run, leading to Dayton’s first timeout five minutes into both teams’ seasons.
The Huskies kept their foot on the gas on both ends of the floor, scoring not once, but twice on the fast break within the span of a minute as the margin reached the 20-point mark. More Flyers started getting on the scoreboard at the free throw line, yet UConn kept increasing their lead with each bucket in the perimeter, going ahead by as much as 29 and taking a 28-point advantage into the locker rooms.
Misses in the first two minutes of the second half started becoming makes out of the first media timeout for the Huskies, who buried three triples in a four-minute window and put the game well out of reach. Amidst the flurry of treys, graduate forward Aubrey Griffin highlighted her contributions on both ends of the floor by rejecting sophomore guard Nayo Lear’s shot as she got it out of her hands. UConn emptied their bench by the halfway point of the fourth quarter, solidifying a season opener where they scored more points than their exhibition versus a Division II school at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion four days earlier.
Each of the four Huskies who made their collegiate debut impressed the fans in their own way. Arnold’s speed made her a contributor in all facets of UConn’s game with eight points, seven assists and four steals. Blocking one shot, Qadence Samuels crossed double figures with 11 points and three buckets from beyond the arc. Ashlynn Shade made two field goals with two assists to boot. Ice Brady only collected three points and three rebounds, but her contributions went beyond getting involved with the ball.
“She was engaged,” Auriemma explained about Brady. “She ran the floor really well. She is good with the ball in her hands.”
Lost in the mix of the freshmen playing collegiate basketball for the first time, Bueckers’ long-awaited return and Edwards’ near double-double was the Huskies’ overall depth. Out of the 11 players who checked into the contest, six scored in double figures and all but two played 10+ minutes.
“We have a lot of different personnel that can be a threat and be to our advantage on different areas of the floor,” noted Edwards. “In the second quarter, we did pretty well pushing the pace. We got a lot of points off turnovers and off defensive rebounds.”
Making her Dayton debut, Wolf made four of the team’s six three-pointers and finished with a team-leading 16 points, while sophomore guard Anyssa Jones dropped 11. Graduate forward Mariah Perez finished just shy of a double-double with eight points and nine rebounds. As Auriemma and Williams-Jeter shook hands after the final buzzer, the 39-year veteran coach provided his thoughts on Dayton’s road ahead.
“We talked about how different the team looks and how hard they compete,” stated Auriemma. “She is in a pretty good place.”
UConn’s nonconference slate ramps up significantly from here on out, starting with a bout in Raleigh against the North Carolina State Wolfpack (1-0) on Sunday. Despite the Wolfpack not being ranked in the preseason Top 25, the Huskies expect a tougher battle that comes with playing an Atlantic Coast Conference foe.
“They have got guards that are athletic and aggressive,” explained Auriemma. “The trick for us, like in any other game we are going to play at that level, is to handle the physicality of the game.”
Tip-off from the Williams Neal Reynolds Coliseum is at 3 p.m. EST on ABC.