UConn women’s basketball closed out the regular season with a hard-fought win over the USF Bulls, 57-47.
After back spasms forced her out of the last game against Houston, Katie Lou Samuelson was ruled out against the Bulls prior to the game. Olivia Nelson-Ododa got her first career start in Samuelson’s place.
Nelson-Ododa wouldn’t see much action in the first half, though. She got benched just four minutes in and got an earful from head coach Geno Auriemma, who left her on the bench for the remainder of the half.
The second half was a different story though, as the Huskies’ freshmen stepped up down the stretch. With the game knotted early in the fourth quarter, Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams teamed up to help UConn pull away for the double-digit win.
Williams scored eight of the team’s 12 fourth-quarter points, many of which came thanks to Nelson-Ododa. The 6-foot-4 center showed off her potential by disrupting USF in every way. She blocked shots, stepped in front of passes for steals leading to layups and grabbed key offensive rebounds. After rough first halves, both players were at their best in crunch time.
The game opened similar to UConn’s 1998 regular season finale against Villanova, when an injured Nykesha Sales was given a free basket to set the Huskies’ all-time scoring record. USF’s Laura Ferreira has missed the last two months of the season with a heart condition and UConn allowed her to score a free basket on senior day, while the Bulls returned the favor before the game truly began at 2-2.
UConn’s offense struggled early, making just four additional field goals the rest of the first quarter, which ended with the Huskies trailing by six.
They came out with some more energy in the second quarter and went on a 10-2 run to take their first lead of the ballgame. But USF wouldn’t roll over and quickly took back the lead. At the half, the Huskies were still down, 29-25. It was UConn’s lowest scoring half of the season and just the fourth time they trailed after 20 minutes.
Once the second half began, UConn opened in a pressure defense that the Bulls couldn’t handle. USF turned the ball over 10 times on their first 12 possessions after coughing up just four turnovers in the entire first half. The Huskies took advantage and built up a seven point lead midway through the third quarter.
But the Bulls continued to fight and used a 6-0 run to pull within one before re-taking the lead soon after. Crystal Dangerfield drained a three to put the Huskies up two as the quarter ended.
From there, UConn’s freshmen stepped up and the defense made stops. The Bulls hit just two field goals in the entire fourth quarter and didn’t score for the final 6:26.
Dangerfield took on some of the scoring load with Samuelson out, leading the team with 17 points while still giving out nine assists. Megan Walker provided a consistent presence with 10 points and seven rebounds. Napheesa Collier dropped a rock-solid 16 points with four rebounds.
Auriemma used his bench often in the first half with Mikayla Coombs, Molly Bent, and Kyla Irwin all seeing plenty of action. But in the second half, only Coombs entered the game when Williams got into foul trouble.
UConn wraps up its sixth consecutive undefeated AAC regular season and will begin the quest for a sixth AAC Tournament title when the Huskies play the winner of the 8/9 game on Saturday at 2 p.m.