Columbus, OH -- There's a reason the University of Connecticut women's basketball program is synonymous with championships. The Huskies play fast on the outside; they overpower opponents inside, and they shut teams down on the defensive end of the floor. There isn't a more complete product in college basketball. That's why it's not a surprise they breezed through their first test of the season.
"We're not a spurt team," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We don't start and stop. We just play. When we get up a little bit, we don't relax. We don't practice like that, and I don't coach like that."
Only five teams separated the No. 1 University of Connecticut women's basketball team from the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes. With just five places separating the programs before the contest, UConn made a statement and showed Ohio State just how elite first-place is, winning its season opener 100-56 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The victory extended the Huskies win streak to 38 games, dating back to last season.
The Buckeyes started the contest on a high note, capturing the jump ball and getting the first opportunity to score. However, the possession was short-lived as Gabby Williams stole the ball and broke away on a layup to put UConn on the board first just 17 seconds into the game. The Huskies spring-boarded off the first possession to push ahead 7-0, leaving Ohio State bewildered.
Shayla Cooper finally stalled the 7-0 run on an offensive putback to get the Buckeyes on the board with 7:39 remaining in the first period. Kia Nurse answered Cooper nine seconds later, completing a three-point play at the foul line to give the Huskies a 10-2 lead.
Despite the quick basket, Cooper refused to be denied and banked another basket through the net. The Huskies followed with a four point run, which included a perfect trip to the line from Breanna Stewart and a second chance opportunity from Williams. The quick spurt gave them their largest lead in the first period at 14-4.
Facing a 10-point deficit just six minutes into the game, the Buckeyes rallied and commenced a 9-0 run to get the closest they would to the elusive Huskies. Ohio State narrowed the score to 14-13, trailing by one point with 4:07 remaining on the clock.
Just as the game seemed to be heating up, UConn regained composure and took total control. The Huskies closed the quarter on a demoralizing 10-2 run to separate themselves by a nine point margin.
Starting a game in a full-court zone defense, the Huskies benefitted by forcing six turnovers and converting those to eight points on the other end of the hardwood. They also managed to surpass Ohio State 6-0 in fast break points on the legs of Moriah Jefferson. Additionally, UConn worked harder inside, outrebounding the Buckeyes 14-9 and outscoring them 16-6 in the paint.
The Huskies advanced their cushion to 20 points midway through the second period, giving up only three points to the Buckeyes in the first five minutes, and then they pushed to a 26-point edge by halftime. The same aspects they excelled in over the first 10 minutes continued to condemn Ohio State in the second stanza.
By the halftime break, UConn compiled nearly twice as many rebounds, 30-16; nearly three times as many second chance points, 11-4; ten times more fast break points, 10-0, and more than double OSU's points in the paint, 28-12.
With both Nurse and Jefferson seamlessly handling Connecticut's guard responsibilities this season, Auriemma will look for the pair to provide a constant threat off the dribble to add to their fierce performances on breakaway attempts.
"I think we pass the ball too much, and that's not a negative thing, but we tend to think pass first," Auriemma said. "Sometimes we just need to have somebody just put the ball on the floor and go attack the basket, and we're doing more of that this year. Kia Nurse is good at that, and Moriah is really good at that.
"The way our offense is structured she's got opportunities to do that almost every time down the floor. For somebody who's not that big, she really finishes around the basket."
The Huskies outmatched the Buckeyes, proving they are a bigger, stronger, and faster team. By the conclusion of the game, UConn capitalized on 23 points off turnovers, 17 second chance points, 46 points in the paint and 14 fast break points. Meanwhile, they only gave up eight points off turnovers, six second chance points and 26 points in the paint. UConn's rigid defense only allowed two fast break points late in the fourth quarter.
The Huskies' entire starting lineup finished in double figures as Williams cleared a double-double with10 points and 11 rebounds, Jefferson totaled 21 points, Morgan Tuck added 15 points, Kia Nurse netted 16 points and Stewart finished the game as the high scorer with 24 points.
Ohio State was led by Cooper — the only Buckeye in double figures — with 17 points.
Aside from the starters, UConn introduced freshmen forwards Napheesa Collier and Kaite Lou Samuelson, who saw 16 and 17 minutes, respectively. Collier managed eight points and five rebounds in her debut, while Samuelson had two points and five rebounds.
"I thought our four retuning starters would play well," Auriemma said. "My biggest concern going in — and I said this to the other coaches — I had no idea how the freshman would play. We just took two seniors out of our lineup last year and replaced them with a freshman and Gabby Williams, who played sparingly last year.
"It wasn't like we graduated two seniors and replaced them with two juniors. Believe me, I didn't think this would be the final score. Don't get me wrong that never entered my mind. I thought the four returners would play well. I was worried about the freshmen a bit."