Huskies pull away in ugly win over USF

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS - By Doug Bon­jour

STORRS — Geno Auriemma was dis­gusted.

He had watched his starters sleep walk through the first four min­utes and 26 sec­onds of Sun­day’s game against South Florida, and so he or­dered them all to the bench. It was a bold move, one that spoke vol­umes about his feel­ings, and drew a gasp from a near-ca­pac­ity crowd of 9,534 at Gam­pel Pav­il­ion.

The Huskies, the No. 3 team in the coun­try, had been lethar­gic and largely un­pro­duc­tive to that point, fall­ing be­hind on the score­board against a cast of rel­a­tive un­knowns.

“Some­times, you know, it just doesn’t look right, and it didn’t look right,” Auriemma would later say. “It’s got­ten to the point where coach­ing, you just make sug­ges­tions now. You can’t tell peo­ple what you want them to do. You just make a sug­ges­tion. If they want to do it, they do it, and if they don’t, they don’t.”

And so?

“I sug­gested that they sit down,” Auriemma said.

Auriemma would watch the Huskies close the first half strong and pull away for an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally sloppy 63-46 vic­tory over the Bulls.

“We didn’t come out ready to play as much as we should have,” guard Katie Lou Sa­muel­son said. “We should have just played with a bet­ter look on our face. Every­thing from head to toe should have been bet­ter.”

The Huskies should have been bet­ter, but they weren’t. And that’s what both­ered Auriemma, who watched his team get out­played for long stretches. They

did most of their dam­age dur­ing the third quar­ter, outscor­ing USF 20-10.

USF, with only eight healthy schol­ar­ship play­ers, trailed by just 10 with 4:15 left in the fourth. The Huskies, how­ever, closed the game on a 13-6 spurt.

“We’ve got a very im­ma­ture team, I think,” Auriemma said. “That shows up in the in­con­sis­tency at times. I think the fact that USF was down so many play­ers, I think the col­lec­tive mood go­ing out there was, ‘We don’t have to re­ally get up for this game. They’re re­ally de­pleted.’”

Added Sa­muel­son: “I think we all know that clearly we were do­ing some­thing wrong. There’s some­thing that we need to fix.”

Sa­muel­son fin­ished with 19 points, in­clud­ing the 2,000th of her ca­reer, to pace the Huskies. The se­nior be­came just the 10th Husky to reach that mile­stone when Christyn Wil­liams hit her for a break­away layup with 2:14 left in the third quar­ter.

Napheesa Col­lier added 12 points and seven re­bounds for UConn while Ta­mara Hen­shaw fin­ished with 12 points to lead USF.

The win, ugly or not, moved the Huskies to 14-1 (3-0) on the sea­son and 104-0 all-time in Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence play. USF dropped to 10-7 (1-2).

“We got out­worked and we got out­hus­tled and we got all that stuff to­day,” Auriemma said. “They killed us on the boards; they of­fen­sive-re­bounded the ball to death. I just think we were lousy to­day, to be hon­est. A lot of credit to South Florida.”

His pa­tience run­ning thin, Auriemma put Molly Bent, Mikayla Coombs, Kyla Ir­win, Ba­touly Ca­mara and Olivia Nel­son-Ododa on the floor with the Huskies trail­ing 6-4. And they stayed on the floor for the rest of the first quar­ter and into the sec­ond.

Bent, a ju­nior, saw the most time of any of the re­serves, play­ing 21 min­utes and scor­ing six points. Most of her ac­tion came in place of Wil­liams, who was score­less (0-of-2 shoot­ing).

“Some­times you see (Auriemma) walk­ing down and you kind of make eye con­tact and see who he’s go­ing to call,” Bent said. “All of a sud­den, he just goes, ‘All five of you guys go.’ I was ex­cited. I can’t speak for the oth­ers, but I’m sure they were a lit­tle ner­vous at first, but we kind of set­tled in a lit­tle bit.”

UConn found its foot­ing af­ter a sleepy start, end­ing the first half on an 8-2 run to go up 26-20. The Huskies trailed by as many as eight points early.

“We just had to go out there and play su­per hard and get af­ter it,” Ir­win said.

De­fen­sive stal­warts: Among the many ar­eas that drew Auriemma’s ire was UConn’s de­fense. The Huskies’ ef­fort on that end of the floor, he felt, was not up to par.

“Our pro­gram gen­er­ally has been built around our de­fense,” he said. “We’re able to dic­tate de­fen­sively more times than not what we want the other team to do. We want to make them play the way we want them to play. It’s get­ting harder and harder to do that these days. To­day was very dif­fi­cult to ac­com­plish­ment what we tried to ac­com­plish.

“It’s days like to­day where you re­ally miss Gabby (Wil­liams) and Kia (Nurse) be­cause they were the two peo­ple that could make it hap­pen. We didn’t re­place them.”

Dis­par­ity on the boards: USF had the bet­ter of play on the boards, out­re­bound­ing UConn 42-26. Enna Pe­hadzic led the Bulls with 12 re­bounds.

“We just right now don’t have enough guys that can put the ball in the bas­ket,” coach Jose Fer­nan­dez said. “We’ve been strug­gling to score, but I thought we did a great job on the glass.”

Stephen Dunn / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn’s Katie Lou Sa­muel­son smiles shortly af­ter scor­ing her 2,000th col­lege ca­reer point in the sec­ond half on Sun­day.

Stephen Dunn / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn’s Crys­tal Danger­field (5) winces af­ter get­ting hit in the sec­ond half on Sun­day.

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