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No. 3 UConn women pick up the pace, remain unbeaten with 87-50 win over Providence

Storrs — UConn coach Geno Auriemma changed the starting lineup for the first time Saturday, something he said later "might not have been the greatest decision in the world."

The result: UConn trailed 12-5 on a 3-pointer by Lauren Sampson of Providence and didn't lead until there were 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in the first quarter when Anna Makurat — who Auriemma subbed out of the starting lineup in favor of freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards, presumably to give the Huskies some size against an imposing Providence frontcourt — came off the bench to hit back-to-back 3-point field goals.

"It doesn't take you long as a coach to figure that stuff out," said Auriemma, who made his first substitutions less than four minutes in with the Huskies yet to score.

"You can tell, especially in today's world that we live in where there's no crowd. There's nothing going on out there, so you have to bring it. You either bring it and it's evident you're bringing it or you don't bring it and it's evident you're not bringing it."

With the changes, third-ranked UConn quickly picked up the pace, beating Providence 87-50 in a Big East Conference women's basketball matchup at Gampel Pavilion.

UConn freshman Paige Bueckers finished with 23 points and five assists and sophomore Aubrey Griffin came off the bench to finish with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, her best game of the season.

It was the first game for UConn (7-0, 6-0) since a win against DePaul on Dec. 29.

The victory also marked No. 1,098 of Auriemma's career, tying him with late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for second on the all-time list behind Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer (1,104).

Evina Westbrook had 13 points for the Huskies, Olivia Nelson-Ododa 11 and Edwards, who made her first career start, had 10 points and seven rebounds.

Nelson-Ododa and fellow junior starter Christyn Williams played sparingly, with Nelson-Ododa playing 15 minutes and Williams 14. Williams did not take a shot and did not score.

"I think they've just got to play better. Sometimes it's that simple," Auriemma said.

Bueckers, whom Auriemma has been imploring to shoot more, finished 8-for-10 against Providence with a pair of 3-pointers. She said UConn uses plenty of lineup combinations in practice so that the players are comfortable with whoever else is out there.

"I mean, it was all on us," Bueckers said of the lethargic start. "We just started off the game slow. I don't know what it was. They just got off to a really good start and we didn't.

"So he changed the lineup just to see if the energy would pick up and if we could get a better start than what we had at tip-off. When the new group came in, we just tried to pick up the energy and we told each other that it all starts with energy on the defensive end and that makes it easier on offense. We just tried to pick it up, do all the little things."

UConn led 46-29 at halftime behind 14 points and five assists from Bueckers.

Makurat, who came into the game shooting 7-for-26 from 3-point range (26.9%) after making 59 3s last year, entered just 3:56 into the first quarter when Auriemma took out Edwards, Williams and Westbrook and put in Makurat, Griffin and freshman Nika Muhl. A few moments later, freshman Mir McLean subbed in for Nelson-Ododa, giving the Huskies three freshmen and two sophomores on the court.

Down 12-5, UConn went on an 8-0 run behind a putback from Griffin and two straight 3-pointers from Makurat to lead 13-12. A drive by Griffin gave the Huskies the lead for good at 15-14 with 1:35 remaining in the quarter and UConn led 19-18 after one.

Bueckers scored 10 points in the second quarter as the Huskies picked up the pace and Westbrook finished the half with a 3-pointer, a scoring spree she would continue in the third quarter.

Makurat said with 10 days in between games with UConn's game scheduled for Thursday at Baylor canceled due to COVID-19 precautions, she had plenty of time to work on her 3-point shot. It was the first time since Dec. 17 that she made more than one in a game.

"For me it's, like, fundamental," Makurat said. "Nothing crazy. Just stay after practice and getting extra shots. A lot of it is the mental aspect. Just to be confident and having fun on the court is a big part of it. Actually, the beginning of the season was pretty tough for me; I'm trying to get back on track and be more aggressive, be more confident.

"I think I'm just going to try to build on this game."

Alyssa Geary and Kyra Swiwak had 10 points each for Providence (5-7, 3-4).

UConn is next scheduled to play at home Wednesday against Big East opponent Seton Hall (4:30 p.m., SNY).

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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