Williams, Stokes spark Huskies
UNCASVILLE – You know how good UConn is – better than most, maybe better than all. We’ll let the season play out for the second part of that. Meanwhile, as you watched the Huskies roll past UCLA Sunday afternoon, 86-50, in front of 8,015 fans at Mohegan here’s the scary part if you are on UConn schedule the rest of the way.
It has something to do with how good the Huskies will be. And they keep offering up tantalizing tidbits with the answer to that question. There is the given in Breanna Stewart who was her usual long, gifted self Sunday with 22 points and 5 blocks.
Andy you expect Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Moriah Jefferson to do their thing, although consistency is still on the elusive side. But, senior Kiah Stokes and freshman Gabby Williams are still in the potential stage while Kia Nurse as good as she is will only get better. And Saniya Chong is still feeling her way along.
Coach Geno Auriemma will tell you in no uncertain terms that this 8-1 team with an early season loss to Stanford is not as good as last year’s undefeated national champions. There is a long road ahead. But you get the idea the very good are only going to get better.
DePaul coach Doug Bruno said the national championship will go through UConn after his Blue Demons lost to the Huskies 98-64 in Bridgeport Friday night. That is a December statement. But Bruno knows this a March team.
Stokes registered a double-double with 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, 10 rebounds and threw in four blocks. The 5-11 Williams pumped in 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“Gabby, she’s just getting better all the time, she makes tough shots, she’s active,” said Auriemma. “ We’ve been trying to find a way to play her and Kia Stokes together at the same time so we can get Stewie away from the lane a little bit. It hasn’t worked so great in practice those two. But today I thought it worked great.”
The Huskies got off to a sluggish start, needing almost three minutes to score their first basket before going on a run of 13 points to take a 15-4 lead. But eight first half turnover turnovers and some early rim clangers kept UCLA in the game.
Holding on to a 24-18 lead with just over seven minutes to go in the half, Williams came off the bench to provide a needed lift. Two driving layups on post plays in the paint made it 28-18 and seemed to be the jump start the Huskies needed.
“I’m starting to like playing the forward and I’m learning to use my guard skill as a post,” said Williams who played guard in high school. “I’m never going to be a big post. I’m just using my quickness and being able to attack, going by people that are bigger than me. And getting steals down low.”
By halftime with Stewart scoring 13 points and Nurse nine, and Williams adding some life, the lead was 40-25.
The second half was a much smoother affair with both Williams and Stokes proving to be a formidable 1-2 punch with eight points apiece and 11 rebounds. UConn’s balance was in full bloom with Stewart adding nine points and Morgan Tuck with six.
UCLA (4-6) closed to 13 points on a couple of occasions but couldn’t handle the Huskies’ balance. Conceding the difficulty in playing this game at this time of year, a lot of the day was about what could be for tomorrow.
Call the Huskies even in their exalted state, even with Bruno’s comments, even with the shredding of Notre Dame still a work in progress. Nobody questions how good the Huskies are but it is about how good they can be.
“When we’re good we’re really good. But, we’re not as talented as last year, we ‘re not as experienced as last year,” said Auriemma. “Last year we made things look easy just about all the time. It’s not going to be like that this year so where are we? Probably where we should be. We’ve gotten better the last month, since November a lot better. But, I think we found out today we need to get a lot better. We gave up 19 offensive rebounds, that’s a lot.”
Let’s see 8-1, ranked No. 2, owners of a big win over Notre Dame. Average margin of victory in the 30s. And getting better. Not a bad position to be in.