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No. 1 UConn women clinch at least a share of Big East title with 83-32 win over Xavier

It's been a season fraught with obstacles. UConn's women's basketball opponent on Saturday, for instance, Xavier, has only played 11 times due to COVID-19-related postponements and cancellations.

That makes it hard for UConn coach Geno Auriemma to even imagine there might be a Big East Conference regular-season champion crowned at all — "it's not been a normal regular season," Auriemma said.

Top-ranked UConn's 83-32 all-out sprint past Xavier earned the Huskies at least a share of the title, however, its first since 2011 in its first season back. UConn played in the American Athletic Conference from 2014-20.

"Always, always. That's always the first order of business," Auriemma said of the potential outright crown, which can come as soon as Thursday when UConn travels to play at Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska. "Whatever league you're in, you want to win the regular-season championship.

"For us, our goal is to win the conference. Our goal is to win every game in the conference. So far we've done that and we've got three more to go. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that we win all three and go into the Big East tournament undefeated."

UConn (18-1, 15-0) has a three-game lead atop the league standings with three games to play. The Huskies play road games next week at Creighton and Butler, finishing off a five-game road trip, before returning to Gampel Pavilion for the regular-season finale March 1 against Marquette.

Creighton upset No. 19 DePaul earlier Saturday, 83-72, giving UConn's closest Big East rivals, DePaul (10-3) and Marquette (12-3), each three conference losses.

Christyn Williams finished with 22 points, including two 3-point field goals, and freshman Aaliyah Edwards had her first career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the rout of Xavier in Cincinnati.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 11 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots and Paige Bueckers 11 points and seven assists for UConn. Evina Westbrook had eight points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals and Nika Muhl eight rebounds and five steals.

UConn had a scare early in the first quarter when Bueckers, the Huskies' freshman phenomenon and leading scorer, came out of the game limping after turning her ankle, but Bueckers came back and instantly responded with a 3-pointer.

UConn, which Edwards later described as "locked in," led 26-6 after one quarter and 42-13 at halftime, playing with a great deal of pace and a seemingly other-worldly passing proficiency, registering 15 assists on 18 first-half field goals and 26 assists on 32 fields goals overall.

"I feel like we have a pretty good rhythm going on right now," Edwards said. "We got to the point where we weren't really focusing on the score and we were just kind of having fun out there as a team."

"I will be the first to say it started off in practice," Williams said with a laugh of the uptempo nature of the UConn offense. "Coach has been making us do all these transition drills so I'm so happy that you guys see it paying off 'cause we have been running a lot. ... I feel like in the last couple games we've gotten in our groove and not going too fast and not going too slow. I'm glad that we've gotten back to that."

Carrie Gross had 10 points for Xavier (4-7, 1-6), which shot 24.6% overall and went 0-for-16 from 3-point range.

Auriemma said he's enjoyed UConn's return to the Big East, of which the Huskies were members from 1982-2013, winning a combined 37 conference titles (19 regular season, 18 tournaments). On Saturday, he made his first trip to Xavier's Cintas Center, calling it "the most perfect campus basketball facility that I've been in."

"I enjoy playing in this conference," Auriemma said. "I always have. I missed it when we were gone. It's obviously a little bit different but I enjoy where we play. ... I enjoy going to these places where basketball is really, really important, so I'm glad to be back."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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