Everything was rolling along the way Connecticut is used to on Tuesday, with the Huskies leading Oklahoma by 21 midway through the second period. One writer tweeted about Geno Auriemma’s 1,000th win being imminent, at 999 ½ .
Then came a surprise for UConn, as Oklahoma came out of the locker room with a noticeable increase in energy, while the Huskies seemed to be planning the celebration instead of playing basketball. The Sooner defense became much more physical and active, while UConn started missing shots, losing rebounds, and generally playing in a fog.
Oklahoma guards drove into the teeth of the Husky defense, kicking it out for a series of made threes. Their physical play, in line with the way the game was called, left UConn settling for shooting and missing threes, then losing the battle for the boards. Oklahoma’s 22-8 run over eight minutes spanning the second and third quarters cut the Husky lead to seven, forcing Auriemma to call a rare timeout. The near-sellout crowd at the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut was starting to get antsy.
Whatever was said in the timeout worked, and the Huskies began to focus. Their defense began to have greater effect, and the Sooner’s aggressiveness came back to haunt them, as three starters had to sit with four fouls by the end of the third quarter. UConn’s responsive 11-3 run extended their lead back to 17 as that period ended, 64-47. The most effective, and most aggressive, Husky during the run was Azura’ Stevens, who scored and rebounded with toughness, then forced Oklahoma out of the paint with her ever-improving defensive presence.
The fourth period began sloppily, with neither team establishing a rhythm offensively. Midway through the period, however, Sooner players seemed to tire noticeably, and the Huskies were able to find open players more often. In a short time, UConn opened up a 23-point lead. By the time their subs were in the game, the outcome was clear, and they won 88-64.
Napheesa Collier scored 21 points and grabbed nine boards for UConn; Katie Lou Samuelson had 19 points, and Stevens finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
Oklahoma senior center Vionise Pierre-Louis tallied 14 points and six rebounds, playing the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, while Maddie Manning added 15.
The post-game celebration of Auriemma’s milestone win included 11 members of his 1985 team, that began the streak of wins, with seven straight. The Husky-fest paused, however to acknowledge North Carolina Coach Sylvia Hatchell had beaten Auriemma to the millennium mark just hours earlier with a victory over Grambling State.
The victory was also number 1,000 for associate head coach Chris Dailey, who would tell you that she actually has seven more wins than Auriemma, because he was suspended for four games in 1989 (for scheduling too many games), and missed three games in 1997 when his father died. Auriemma was still head coach, however, and is credited with the seven he missed.
Connecticut plays next on Dec. 31 against Duquesne in Toronto, Ontario, which will be a homecoming of sorts for Canadian native, senior Kia Nurse. Oklahoma returns home to start its Big 12 schedule against No. 8 Texas on Dec. 28.