HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Geno Auriemma believes his UConn team has begun to push aside the excuses of injuries to their star players and COVID-19-related problems to once again concentrate on playing good basketball.
Freshman Caroline Ducharme scored 20 points, Christyn Williams added 19 and No. 10 Connecticut routed Xavier 78-41 on Saturday to win its 165th straight conference game.
Senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa also filled up the stat sheet for UConn (9-3, 4-0 Big East), scoring 11 points, blocking a career-high eight shots, pulling down six rebounds and grabbing a career-high five steals. Little-used Piath Gabriel chipped in with a career-high nine points for the Huskies, who have now won three straight since coming off a 21-day COVID-19-related pause.
“Our team is starting to understand that there are a lot of uncontrollables in their life, and all the whining and all the complaining and all the ‘woe is me,’ doesn’t help,” Auriemma said.
Aanaya Harris had 12 points and Miikayla Hayes added 10 for Xavier (6-9, 1-5), which hit just 17 of its 64 shots (27%).
Williams opened the scoring with a 3-pointer from the right corner. UConn scored the game’s first 11 points never trailed. The senior guard had 10 of her points in the first 10 minutes and the Huskies led 28-13 after a quarter.
A 3-pointer by Ducharme from the left corner gave the Huskies their first 20-point lead midway through the second quarter at 37-17. She had 14 points in the first half and has scored at least 14 points in six of UConn’s last seven games.
The Huskies led 48-23 at intermission. They were led on defense by Nelson-Ododa, who had six blocked shots before halftime.
“That’s been a point of emphasis in practice,” Nelson-Ododa said. “Just getting after it on defense and staying locked in. (Auriemma) has really made that a huge point for us and kind of making us realize that’s what converts into good offense and really gets us going.”
Connecticut opened the second half with nine straight points, taking its first 30-point lead at 53-23 and stretched the lead from there.
Xavier: Guard Shelby Calhoun, who came back this week from a hand injury she suffered on Nov. 13, left the game with an apparent right knee injury after a collision going for a loose ball in the third quarter. Coach Melanie Moore said Calhoun seemed OK after the game and will be evaluated by doctors after the team returns home… The Musketeers are now 0-4 against UConn and 11-48 all-time against ranked teams.
UConn: The Huskies have not lost a conference game since the program’s first stint in the Big East, a 61-59 loss to Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament on March 12, 2013. The Huskies haven’t lost a regular season conference game since March 4, 2013, a triple-overtime loss to the Irish.
ON THE MEND
Reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers was without crutches at a game for the first time since fracturing her left tibia at the knee on Dec. 5. She put up shots in pre-game warmups, much to Auriemma’s chagrin.
“She knows more than any doctor, any coach, anybody,” Auriemma said, before adding with a laugh, that he “can’t wait to get her back.”
She’s on schedule to return sometime in mid-to-late February. Auriemma joked that she and top recruit Azzi Fudd, who has been out since late November with a foot injury, may have to try out to make the team again.
UConn had 15 blocks, rejecting 23% of Xavier’s shot attempts They also forced 24 Xavier turnovers with 16 steals.
“They were just so long,” said Xavier coach Moore. “We would get by the first but then you have 6-4, 6-5 rotating into your face, where other teams you get that layup or that jump shot. They close out so fast.”
Xavier: The Musketeers return home to face Marquette on Friday.
UConn: The Huskies travel to face Oregon on Monday.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25