About a week and a half ago, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma gathered his team around him and asked them how big of a deal setting the NCAA Division I record for most consecutive wins was to them as a group.
Considering that the 2016-17 Huskies are a relatively soft-spoken group, he was not surprised by a rather understated response. Well, on Tuesday night as the top-ranked Huskies crushed No. 20 South Florida 102-37 for record-tying win No. 90 in a row before a season-high crowd of 10,109 at the XL Center, Auriemma got the message loud and clear about what a big deal it was to his players as they set a program record for largest margin of victory over a team ranked in the Associated Press poll.
“They looked like a team that was on a mission to do something that was really important to them,” Auriemma said after the Huskies tied the Division I record held by his UConn team from 2008-10. “I told them in the locker room that was as good of a 20 minutes of basketball that any of them have ever been a part of. “
Senior guard Saniya Chong matched career highs with 20 points and eight assists as all five starters scored in double figures. Gabby Williams flirted with a triple-double as she finished 11 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and four blocked shots despite not playing in the fourth quarter. Katie Lou Samuelson had 19 points including four 3-pointers while Napheesa Collier had 19 points, six rebounds and six steals and Kia Nurse contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Natalie Butler added 10 points off the bench for UConn (15-0, 3-0 in the American Athletic Conference).
“There are very few moments like this when you can take a deep breath, take it all in,” Williams said. “We did a lot of things we like to do and I think that kind of threw them off and allowed us to make a lot of really good plays. Once we got that momentum, we didn’t stop.”
UConn actually missed three of its first five shots before making its next 10 field goal attempts to turn the matchup between the top two teams in the American Athletic Conference standings in each of the last two seasons into a blowout.
“It was a really great game to be a part of and I think it was the energy that we came out with, the energy that we maintained throughout the game,” said Nurse, the only player to appear in all 90 games of the current streak. “When you play games like that, it is pure fun, pure joy and excitement. The last couple of practices we had some good practices, things were clicking and at shootaround today we were focused at what we need to do, what we need to execute and it showed.”
USF only made shots on consecutive possessions twice in the first half. The Bulls, who started off missing 18 of its first 21 shots, compounded matters by not hustling back on defense to allow the Huskies to score at will.
The tone was set with a 9-0 lead and ended the first quarter with 13 consecutive points.
When the game ended, fans held up signs with the No. 90 on them and messages from former Huskies including Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Tiffany Hayes who played starring roles on the first 90-game streak, played on the video board.
“It is pretty cool that it is still going because it is not going to end while we are here,” Williams said. “That is kind of the mentality.”
This was the 27th team ranked in the Associated Press poll that the Huskies have faced during the streak. During the previous 90-game streak, UConn faced 29 ranked teams. UConn also led from start to finish for the 49th time in the streak, which began on Nov. 23, 2014 with a 96-60 win over Creighton.
UConn improved its regular-season record in the AAC to 57-0, matching the program’s longest streak as the Huskies won 57 straight Big East games from 2008-12. The Huskies have a long way to go to get to No. 1 in that streak as Texas won 124 straight Southwest Conference regular-season games from 1981-90.
The news wasn’t all good as Auriemma announced after the game that freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield will miss the next couple of weeks as she rests a sore foot.
Kitija Laksa came into the game leading the AAC in scoring averaging 21.6 points per game but she finished with seven points on 3-of-15 shooting. Maria Jespersen led the Bulls (13-2, 2-1) with 11 points.
UConn goes after a record 91st straight on Saturday playing at Southern Methodist.
“Those guys, they started it two years ago and we have tried to finish it off for them,” Williams said of former All-Americans Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. “It is not just this team, it is the last couple of seasons we have had.”