Hartford, Conn — The No. 1 UConn Huskies returned for their first game at the XL Center in Hartford this season, as they hosted the No. 15 Maryland Terrapins, without their star player, Katie Lou Sameuelson, who had injured her foot in Friday’s win over California.
Not having a key starter wasn’t an issue for UConn’s versatile team. Prior to today, the Huskies started this season off with a bang, securing two blowout wins over top 25 teams, Stanford and California. Even without Samuelson, the trend continued on Sunday, not showing any sign of mercy against Maryland.
Maryland has already played a top five-ranked team this season, coming off of a recent tough, competitive loss to the defending champions, No.4 South Carolina.
Who replaced Samuelson in the starting line-up? Well, Azura Stevens stepped up to the plate. She performed well with the opportunity and is looking to gain more confidence throughout the season.
“She made some shots today which I thought were great. She made a couple plays. It’s a work in progress with Azura," explained UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma.
Initially, the Huskies and Terrapins were seemingly competitive, but it didn’t take long for Connecticut to pull away in the first quarter. After Maryland’s Ieshia Small made a jumper to tie the game 7-7, UConn showed Maryland it wasn’t going to be quite that easy. The Huskies put them in their place with efforts led by Kia Nurse, who scored 12-points alone, to end the first with a commanding lead, 32-11.
Despite an attempt from Preseason All-Big Ten Team sophomore, Kaila Charles (finished with 29 points total) to lessen the Terrapin’s deficit, the Huskies maintained a whopping lead. Connecticut forward Gabby Williams, heated up in the second period, finishing the half with 11 points and the Huskies up 46-21.
A lot of turnovers and fouls plagued the second half on both teams. At the end of the third quarter, Williams hit a double-double (15 points/11 rebounds), with her turnovers (9) at almost hitting double-digits as well. She reached a triple-double by the end of the game, as her turnovers reached a high of 10.
Maryland approached foul trouble, with Brianna Fraser and Stephanie Jones both at a dangerous 4.
The fourth quarter followed suit with the tone of the game, as the Huskies maintained an enormous lead over the Terrapins. Connecticut’s Napheesa Collier and Azura Stevens both secured double-doubles. Stevens played extremely competitively given Samuelson’s absence, finishing the game with 18 points, but she admits she knows that she can continue to improve.
“Coach and the team, they have confidence in me to just keep shooting so I’m just trying to stick with it in that aspect,” stated Stevens. “And on defense move my feet and be where I need to be at the right time.”
While Maryland has a lot of young talent, the game was forecasted in the first quarter when Connecticut went on their first major scoring run, and ultimately rose victoriously 97-72.
What made the biggest difference for Connecticut overall today though? Rebounds.
The Huskies continually outrebounded the Terrapins throughout the entire game, ending with a 57-35 advantage, including 37 offensive rebounds. Connecticut also played in unison as a team, with six players reaching double figures in scoring.
“I was shocked at our offensive rebounding because that’s something that we don’t do well," stated UConn’s Head Coach Geno Auriemma. “Not because we can’t; we just don’t. We just expect every shot to go in and we run back on defense. And now, you know, we’re actually concentrating on going to the offensive boards more and it’s helping. It’s given us a couple more possessions.”
Connecticut will travel to California to take on No. 8 UCLA for their next game on Tuesday, November 21 at 10:30 pm ET. Maryland will also play their next game the same day but on their home-court, versus Howard at 6 pm.