No. 1 UConn nearly flawless in routing Tulane 98-45
Storrs — The degree of difficulty on some of UConn's shots to start the second quarter Saturday afternoon was especially lofty.
Azura Stevens hung in the air before finishing off a pass from Katie Lou Samuelson, Gabby Williams bounced up for an offensive rebound on which she was fouled and freshman Megan Walker caught an alley-oop from Stevens and scored in the midst of a 16-0 Huskies run.
And then things got better in the third quarter, as top-ranked UConn shot 92.9 percent — 72.2 percent overall — en route to a 98-45 victory over Tulane in an American Athletic Conference victory before a sold-out crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the near-perfection in the third quarter, when the team shot 13-for-14, was prompted by nothing he said at halftime.
“I was eating tomato pies my friends brought up from Philly,” Auriemma said of halftime. “I don't think that's the best we could play, either. These third quarters lately have been about as good as we could be.
“I don't believe it myself when I look at our team that we could be that good a shooting team, but we are. It's not just when we get layups, it's a combination of things. … To me, that's the big key. If we just go to one player over and over and over again, we'd be an easier team to play against.”
Samuelson led six players in double figures with 19 points for UConn (20-0, 9-0), 15 in the first half. Kia Nurse had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Williams, Napheesa Collier and Walker had 13 points each, while Stevens had 12. Williams also had nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals, despite playing with a sore hip, and Collier had five steals.
In the third quarter, it was Nurse who was possibly most effective, going 4-for-4, 3-for-3 from 3-point range, and finishing the third with a blocked shot and an end-to-end layup to cap the quarter with the Huskies having hammered their way to an 84-28 lead.
UConn, which started 20-0 for the 11th time in program history, just missed the record for field goal percentage in a game, which is .726.
“We've been shooting well in practice,” said Samuelson, who had three 3-pointers. “Today was just a good game. We've just been making shots we've all been practicing. … I think it's just one of those games we all felt great.”
And to think, UConn came into the game obsessing about Tulane (11-10, 3-5), which features 5-foot-8 senior guard Kolby Morgan, a 2,000-point scorer in her career who came into the game averaging 21.3 points per game.
On Feb. 18 last season, UConn won 63-60 at Tulane, the smallest margin of victory for the Huskies ever in an AAC game.
On Saturday, Morgan didn't score in the first half, with coverage led by Nurse, and finished 1-for-10 shooting overall for two points, while Kayla Manuirirangi led the Green Wave with 13 points. Tulane turned the ball over 27 times.
“I do like her as a player a lot,” Auriemma said of Morgan. “It's a little bit more difficult for her this year because she doesn't have as much help. … We had the game plan and we followed it to a T. I thought we did a super job on that.”
It was the 200th sellout in program history for the UConn women, who next play Thursday at No. 9 South Carolina, which won last year's national championship.
UConn then plays at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday against Cincinnati, when Auriemma — a Philly native — is expected to be singing, “Fly, Eagles, Fly,” the fight song of the Philadelphia Eagles, even louder than he was Saturday. The Eagles will face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl later in the day.
As for Williams, she said the mastery in the third quarter was just a matter of focus for the Huskies.
“We're at that time of the season, we can't have any more wasted days,” Williams said. “There was not much to be said.”
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