Huskies make it 100 straight. Gabby Williams leads UConn to a 66-55 win over South Carolina.
STORRS: UConn head coach Geno Auriemma is finding it harder and harder to find ways to describe his talented junior, Gabby Williams.
Can’t say I blame him. Every time you think you have seen the best she can do, she goes out and has the kind of performance she did Monday night against a South Carolina team who seemed primed to keep the Huskies from taking home their 100th straight win.
Williams single-handedly willed, pushed, carried and took her team to that remarkable 100th straight win mark as the Huskies shook off a night that was far from perfect, but was still good enough to get past the Gamecocks by a 66-55 final.
100 straight wins.
It’s so hard to fathom that any team could reach that mark but now, it’s not hard to see them finish another regular season without a loss.
It looked like the home team, in front of a sell-out crowd of 10,167, may see its streak end at 99, especially with its leading scorer, Katie Lou Samuelson, struggling mightily with just six points, and none in the first half when she failed to connect on any of her nine attempts.
Add foul trouble to the mix and all the ingredients for a loss where there.
Enter Lawrence Taylor, I mean Gabby Williams, who dominated the taller Gamecocks bigs, A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates, by scoring 26 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass.
Williams was the best player on the court Monday and if she figures out how to continue to broaden her offensive game, look out world because she can score around the basket on anybody.
Auriemma continues to marvel at the development of the 5’11” Williams.
“She is an extraordinary talent and you hear that word a lot you know,” Auriemma said. “You hear that word that she is a special player or this special but you know there is nothing special about Gabby. You know, I think the word gets thrown around like its ordinary she’s not special, what she is an extraordinary athlete who understands that she is and she tries to live up to it and not everyone does that. Her basketball skills have caught up to her extraordinary talent. There is nobody like her in college basketball.”
Add four steals, four assists and two blocks to her resumes for good measure.
Maybe it was the row of former Huskies superstars like Stewie, Tuck, Bird, Hartley (with her newborn), Moore and others who inspired the junior who has not yet reached her full potential.
For her to do it on this stage, against this team with a great deal at stake while not a lot was going right around her makes it that much more impressive.
South Carolina, ranked No. 6 coming in, had a terrific game plan designed to slow UConn down and for most of the first half it worked.
On the strength of 12 first half points by Wilson, the Gamecocks held a 29-28 lead over the home team with just over two minutes to play in the second quarter but allowed a 7-0 run by the Huskies (five by Napheesa Collier and a bucket by Williams) and went into the half down six.
Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley knew her team had slipped after playing just the kind of half she wanted them to.
“I thought that for 18 minutes of the first half,” Staley said. “It favored our game plan and then we had those turnovers and they went and scored and it really hurt us. We had lazy passes and they made us pay for it.”
Wilson led South Carolina with 17. but was 0-4 from the floor in the second half as the Huskies turned up the defensive effort.
Coates added 10 points and 15 rebounds, while Bianc Cuevas-Moore added 11.
Back to Williams, who played all 40 minutes and triggered the score-separating-run in the third quarter with a pair of baskets, one on an offensive put back, the other off a nice pass from freshman Crystal Dangerfield, who played her best game since the Huskies played Baylor back in November.
The first-year point guard scored five points and dished out seven assists in 30 minutes of action, forced in to the extra time with Kia Nurse a bit hobbled and having a hard time running.
Collier scored the quarters final five points on strong moves inside and the lead went to double digits at 51-39 entering the fourth.
In the fourth, Samuelson and Collier each picked up their fourth fouls less than three minutes in, forcing them to the bench with the lead at 55-42.
A lineup that included Dangerfield, Nurse, Saniya Chong, Williams and Natalie Butler held the visitors at bay with Williams doing the heavy lifting with six points, 4 for 4 from the free throw line. UConn was a perfect 10 for 10 on the night from the charity stripe.
In the end, the faithful were treated to a shower of paper money with the head coaches face on a 100-win bill.
Auriemma still marvels that this group got to this place.
“Given where we started and where a lot of people expected us to be and who everyone else had coming back, for them to do it is very appropriate,” Auriemma said. “They probably feel better about it than last year’s team would have. A big win like this against a really good team in an amazing environment.”
100 and counting. Stay tuned.