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Auriemma Tells It Like It Is As UConn Rolls Past Albany In NCAA Opener (By Rich Elliott)

POSTED March 19, 2017
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By Rich Elliott

STORRS – The honesty of UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma is soothing. There are many coaches who sit in front of a microphone and simply heap praise on their players no matter how they truly feel about their performance that day.

Auriemma certainly had plenty positive remarks Saturday regarding the Huskies. How could he not? Led by a combined 44 points and 20 rebounds from sophomore Napheesa Collier and junior Gabby Williams, UConn defeated 16th-seeded Albany 116-55 in the first round of the NCAA tournament before 5,670 at Gampel Pavilion to extend its NCAA record winning streak to 108.

Still, after complimenting Collier and Williams, he spoke the truth. This was not a banner day for either player in his estimation. The chase for perfection is unrelenting, especially with the Huskies chasing a fifth straight national championship.

``I’ve got to tell you when those two guys get it going and they’re both like really in a zone I don’t know how we would play against somebody like that,’’ Auriemma said. ``I really don’t because Gabby just takes the ball and goes. And Pheesa just gets it … She missed two layups today. What did she shoot … 10-for-15. She missed like one jumper and a couple layups. She had a bad day today. She shot 10-for-15. She missed more shots than she usually misses.

``So the things that we see in them are a little bit different than what (those on the outside) see. You see that part of it. We see the other part. Those two guys did not play great today. It’s just not one of their better days. And they’ll be the first to tell you because the expectations that they have for themselves and that we have for them are like off the charts. They weren’t great today. They would tell you.’’

UConn will face eighth-seeded Syracuse (22-10) in the second round Monday in a rematch of the 2016 national title game in Indianapolis (6:30 p.m.; ESPN2) when the Huskies rolled to an 82-51 win. Behind 28 points from senior Brittney Sykes (4-for-6 3-pointers), 25 from senior Alexis Peterson and 24 from freshman Gabby Cooper (8-for-15), the Orange defeated ninth-seeded Iowa State 85-65 in the second game Saturday.

Collier, The American Co-Player of the Year, finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. It was her 14th double-double of the season.

In shooting 10-of-15 from the field it was a subpar effort for Collier, who entered the game ranked second nationally in field goal shooting (.689). See, Auriemma was right after all.

Williams totaled 20 points (5-of-9 FG), 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals in 27 minutes. It was her 11th double-double of the season.

Of course, Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, being on the outside looking in, spoke very highly of Collier and Williams following the game.

``Williams has to be maybe one of the most athletic players ever,’’ Bernabei-McNamee said. ``Some of those rebounds she grabbed … Very phenomenal. Her legs are like springs. She just gets up and rises above the other players. Her high post presence … She’s a triple threat from up there because she’s a great passer. Good IQ. She can drive hard and even if you get in her way she’ll probably power over and drop it over the top of you and finish. Collier’s … She just a constant high-low kid. She can also step outside and shoot. They play very well together and they also are just good players.’’

Williams had gone 10 NCAA tournament games without reaching double figures in scoring (11 vs. Rutgers in the second round March 23, 2015). That was also the last time she reached double figures in rebounds (10) in the tournament.

Overall, Williams had been averaging 5.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.92 assists and 0.92 steals in her first 12 NCAA tournament games (one start).

Collier averaged 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in six games in the tournament last season.

With All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck now playing in the WNBA, the onus falls on Collier and Williams – among others – to assume an enhanced leadership role in this high pressure setting for the Huskies.

Collier (18) and Williams (16) combined for 34 points in the first half as UConn built a 58-32 lead at halftime.

``The rest of the team is going to feed off of what we do, whether that’s positive or negative,’’ Williams said. ``So we have to make sure that if we’re going to say something we have to being doing it too. And we have to lead by example.’’

Kia Nurse, who had missed the final four games of the regular season with an ankle injury, had 24 points (6-of-7 3-pointers) and three assists for the Huskies. Freshman Crystal Dangerfield contributed 16 points (4-of-7 3-pointers), three rebounds and six assists.

Katie Lou Samuelson added 15 points, three rebounds and a career-high nine assists and two steals for UConn.

The Huskies, who shot 62.3 percent for the field (13-of-26 3-pointers) outscored Albany 58-23 in the second half.

``We always say that it takes a while to get going in this particular game because the 12-day layoff that you have isn’t quite normal,’’ Auriemma said. ``It didn’t seem to affect us that much offensively, but I thought defensively we were a little bit out of sync for long stretches of the first half. But there were a lot of stretches in the second half where I thought we started to get it back and we looked really, really good. That first three or four minutes of the second half I think kind of ended the game for all intents and purposes.’’

The Huskies have won a record 25 straight NCAA tournament games. They have also won 24 straight NCAA first-round games, including the last 10 by an average of 53.8, and 37 straight NCAA games at Gampel Pavilion

Imani Tate had 19 points and seven rebounds for Albany (21-12).

``They’re an unbelievable team,’’ Bernabei-McNamee said.

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