Add another historic feat to Geno Auriemma’s legendary resume.
For someone with 11 national championships, 980 wins and six perfect seasons, it’s not easy for a moment to land high on Auriemma’s list of unprecedented achievements. But the Huskies did just that Monday night at a sold-out Gampel Pavilion by defeating No. 6 South Carolina 66-55 for the Huskies’ 100th win in a row.
Instead of rebuilding like so many expected after the loss of stars Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson, this year’s team has kept on building, tacking on win after win en route to reaching the unprecedented century mark.
“For this team to do it, given where we started and where people projected us to be given who we had coming and given who everybody else had coming back, for them to do it, I think it’s very appropriate. They probably feel better about it than maybe last year’s team would have,” Auriemma said.
Monday night’s victory over the Gamecocks wasn’t the easiest win out of UConn’s last 100, but it was, as always, impressive. The Huskies navigated through an injury to junior guard Kia Nurse and struggles from leading scorer Katie Lou Samuelson to handle a monstrous South Carolina frontcourt of A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates, largely due to a career performance from Gabby Williams, who scored a career-high 26 points and added 14 rebounds.
“They’re bigger and they were taller, a little bit more physical than I was, so I had to use my advantage, which was my athleticism, my quickness,” Williams said on dealing with the Gamecocks’ frontcourt.
On top of Williams’ performance, Crystal Dangerfield once again stepped up when the spotlight was its brightest. After breaking out for a 19-point performance against No. 2 Baylor in November, Dangerfield scored five points with a game-high seven assists in 30 minutes against South Carolina, filling in admirably for Nurse while the junior guard was hampered by a right ankle injury. If that wasn’t enough, Napheesa Collier and Samuelson struggled with foul trouble for most of the second half, limiting their ability down the stretch on both ends.
“We had to do it under somewhat difficult circumstances. Lou struggling like she did. Kia not being able to run, and then then the foul problems at the end,” Auriemma said. “Somehow or another, we figured out a way to do it… Sometimes, it’s just meant to be.”
With the Huskies’ win, the Gamecocks became the 28th ranked victim of UConn’s winning streak. Just two of the 100 wins came by less than single-digits. The average margin of victory is north of 38 points. And perhaps craziest of all, there’s no clear end in sight.
Of course, this year’s team was not the core of all 100 of these wins. In fact, they only have accounted for a quarter of them. Regardless, they did what they had to do to finish the job that UConn greats like Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson started for them.
“For these players anyway, this 100-win streak isn’t theirs, but if they win the national championship, that’s all theirs. That means a lot more I think if we’re able to do that down the road than what happened tonight,” Auriemma said. “Tonight, they carried the torch across the finish line so to speak, to 100. It’s a relay, they took the last baton and they crossed the finish line.”
UConn will finish the regular season with four American Athletic Conference matchups. In 66 conference games as members of American, the Huskies have not lost once. With matchups at Tulane and USF and home games against Temple and Memphis on deck, that’s unlikely to change.
If that trend continues into the conference tournament, the Huskies likely won’t face another test like Gamecocks until the later rounds of the NCAA tournament. And because of that, the focus shifts from one streak to another: a fifth-straight national championship.
“If we win a national championship, it’s all theirs, start to finish, they earned it,” Auriemma said. “So I want to focus on trying to do that instead of all this other stuff.”