Huskies pull away in sloppy win over USF
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.”
“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 some-
thing 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.”
UConn’s Napheesa Collier (24), Crystal Dangerfield (5) and Katie Lou Samuelson (33) celebrate after Sunday’s win over South Florida.
UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson smiles shortly after scoring her 2,000th college career point in the second half on Sunday.
UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson (33) and Napheesa Collier defend against South Florida’s Tamara Henshaw on Sunday.