STORRS, Conn. (AP) — A now-healthy No. 7 UConn is rounding into typical form heading into the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
Paige Bueckers made her first start in more than two months and Christyn Williams scored 16 points in her final regular-season game to lead UConn to an 88-31 rout of Providence on Sunday.
Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year, played 13 minutes, scoring two points and had five assists in her second game since returning from the left knee injury that kept her sidelined since Dec. 5.
“I would expect her to come back after not having played and testing out her new knee, that it would be more of the same — pass first and worry about scoring later,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “There’s nothing surprising about what she’s done.”
UConn has won seven straight games by an average of more than 39 points since losing their first conference game in almost nine years to Villanova on Feb. 9.
Graduate transfer Dorka Juhasz had 14 points and 10 rebounds, putting up her eighth double-double of the season. Azzi Fudd added 14 points and Olivia Nelson-Ododa scored 13 for the Huskies (22-5, 16-1 Big East).
Janai Crooms had 12 points for Providence (11-18, 6-14), which lost this season’s first meeting between the two teams in January by just eight points. The Friars were held to just 10 baskets on 55 attempts (18%) in this one.
“They’ve got some fluidity now,” Providence coach Jim Crowley said. “They play with a much greater urgency. They know what time of year it is and what they have to do with it. Their urgency level today was much higher than it was a month ago and much higher than ours.”
The Huskies showed a few senior-day jitters, missing their first seven shots from the floor. Nelson-Ododa opened the scoring with a free throw more than two minutes into the game.
Connecticut trailed 4-1 before Williams hit a driving layup. That started a run that saw the Huskies score the final 24 points of the quarter and take complete control of the game.
UConn extended the run to 29-0, before Kylee Sheppard hit a 3-pointer for Providence. The Huskies outscored Providence 26-6 in the second quarter and led 51-10 at halftime. Sheppard left the game in the third quarter with a right-leg injury after coming down awkwardly during a rebound attempt.
Williams said the Huskies, who have had eight players miss at least two games with injury or illness, are feeling confident as they make a run at a 12th national title.
“I think we can go far,” she said. “We have a lot of potential with this team, just getting everybody healthy. We obviously still have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to work on and sharpen up before the NCAA Tournament, but I feel like we have a good shot.”
Providence: Providence has lost its last 31 games with UConn and falls to 21-43 in the series. The Friars have not beaten a ranked opponent since January, 2013.
UConn: UConn honored seniors Nelson-Ododa, Williams and Evina Westbrook (eight points), along with Juhasz, before the game. The seniors have compiled a 114-13 record at Connecticut. Juhasz, a transfer from Ohio State, still has one year of eligibility and has not said whether she plans to return to the Huskies next season.
Juhasz’ parents could not make it to the senior day ceremonies from Hungary, so all of the UConn underclassmen escorted her to center court. UConn also honored Juhasz by playing the Hungarian national anthem before the game.
“I just felt so loved,” Juhasz said. “It was such an emotional moment for me.”
Providence: Opens play Friday in the Big East Tournament
UConn: The Huskies will be the top seed in the conference tournament and take on the winner of the 8-9 game Saturday at noon.
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