UConn women handle South Carolina
HARTFORD – Okay so this is not your normal UConn women’s basketball team this season. The defense struggles at times, there is a lack of size and the bench has been window dressing.
All of which has put a dent in the Huskies’s dominance. A number 5 ranking, gasp, talk of a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament which would normally lead to a call for an investigation and a 22-2 record heaven forbid.
With all that in mind, the Huskies’ performance against No. 11 South Carolina Monday night, winners of 12 of its last 13 games prior to the start, should provide a confidence boost for all. Unleashing a relentless offensive effort, particularly in the second half, UConn overcame 10-point first quarter deficit and won going away, 97-79 in front of 11,470 fans at XL Center.
The importance of the game at this time of the season against a quality opponent was not lost on the Huskies after losses to top five teams Baylor and Louisville earlier in the season.
“Because of the way the Baylor game played out and because of the way the Louisville game played out it was kind of important that we come out of this with something that made us feel really good about ourselves,” said coach Geno Auriemma. “Today not only did we win which is obviously the goal but we came out feeling good about how we won the game. We had to battle these guys.”
“It felt really good, because it’s our last big game of the regular season and we, especially our starting five, really need to be on the same page and locked in,” said Collier.
Nobody was more locked in that Collier who poured in 31 points on 15-of-23 shooting and hauled down 16 rebounds. There was plenty of help as the Huskies hit the Gamecocks from all angles. Katie Lou Samuelson had 29 points and the resurgent Christyn Williams 19.
Auriemma conceded the Huskies will live or die with the offense.
“If we make our share of shots we will be fine,” said Auriemma. “If we have a bad shooting night we’re going to lose because we don’t have a lot of ways to win.”
Led by Bianca Cuevas-Moore (25 points) and Te’a Cooper (20 points), South Carolina (17-6) opened up like it was going to blow the Huskies out of Hartford, hitting 9 of its first 10 shots while building up a 22-12 lead. But in the long run, the Gamecocks could not keep up with the UConn onslaught when it had the ball.
Buoyed by 10 points from Collier, the Huskies roared back to cut the deficit to 27-23 by the end of the period and had forged ahead, 44-43 by the half. But it was in the third quarter that the South Carolina got left behind.
A 10-2 run in the first 3:15, keyed by five points from Samuelson, two baskets on fast-break opportunities upped the lead to 54- 45. The lead continued to grow as Samuelson poured in 14 points in the period and Collier eight. A 14-2 run in the second half of the in the period built the lead up to 68-50.
After giving up 27 points in the first period, UConn allowed South Caroline just 28 points in the second and third periods, taking a 73-55 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We changed our defense a bit,” said Collier. “Even though we went in saying we had to force them into the middle we weren’t doing it. So we emphasized bringing them to the help and making it a little more congest for them.”
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley noted the difference.
“They junked it up and played a lot of zone. They were concerned with our speed and our ability to drive the paint,” said Daley. “We have to do a better job of getting our post players the ball. We didn’t hit shots. We hit shots in the first two quarters and when you are able to do that you can keep it close with them. In the second half we came up short. They come at you in waves.”
South Carolina also had no handle on UConn’s offense particularly Collier who found her way to the basket and hit a variety of short jumpers.
“I can’t imagine anyone in the country is playing better than Nepheesa,” said Auriemma.
Staley who has coached Collier, offered up her analysis.
“She is relentless on both sides of the ball, always finds a way to the ball. She is good around the rim and she savvy in that she can drive both ways. She gets rebounds she never stops. If you don’t match her energy she’s going to win the battle which will more likely give their team an edge in winning basketball games.
Williams has also begun to bubble again and as the tournament nears, her contributions will be essential.
“I’m really trying to get back to just playing my game and going with my natural instincts rather than overthinking everything, said Williams. “I play better when I’m flowing and I think that showed tonight.”
The Huskies showed a lot tonight. When the offense is on, the deficiencies can be overcome.