Despite missing one of their top defenders in Gabby Williams, the UConn Huskies put together one of their best defensive performances in program history as they defeated Cincinnati 75-21 in the AAC Tournament semifinals.
Williams — the 2017 WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year — was held out of the semi-final matchup after re-injuring her hip in yesterday’s game, although head coach Geno Auriemma said she could have played. Crystal Dangerfield returned after missing most of the second half of the quarterfinal with an ankle injury.
Without Williams, most would expect the Husky defense to take a step back. However, it was the offense that struggled out of the gate as UConn scored just 17 first-quarter points.
The Huskies’ defense made up for the slow start on the other side of the floor, allowing just five points in the first quarter, an impressive feat on its own.
UConn followed it up with a statement.
The Huskies held Cincinnati scoreless in the second quarter, a first for the program. Not only did the Bearcats fail to score, they struggled mightily to get any decent shots up.
At the break, UConn tied a program record for fewest points allowed in a half with five, last accomplished on Nov. 25, 2011, against Fairleigh Dickinson. Cincinnati shot just 8.7 percent in the half (2-of-23 from the field) and failed to score for 16:09 of game time.
During the extended scoring drought, the Huskies mounted a 38-0 run to take a 47-5 lead.
A three-pointer from Shanice Johnson 1:23 into the second half broke the epic drought. However, the Bearcats didn’t fare much better in the third quarter. The Huskies held them to just six points and led 66-11 heading into the final frame.
After hitting a free throw with 4:04 remaining, the Bearcats scored their 21st point to prevent UConn from setting a program record in points allowed (20 points for Quinnipiac in 1997).
Starting in place of Williams, Azura Stevens dominated with 21 points (the same total as Cincinnati) on 10-of-13 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds — five of which came on the offensive glass.
Both juniors filled the stat sheet as Napheesa Collier totaled 13 points, six rebounds and five assists while Katie Lou Samuelson contributed 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists to the cause.
The Huskies face the USF Bulls in the AAC Tournament final tomorrow at 5 p.m.