On Thursday night, UConn women’s basketball will open the new year by beginning the conference-heavy portion of its schedule against Wichita State. With the Huskies moving to the Big East next year, it will likely be the final time they see most AAC teams beyond the required meetings left this season.
Through 121 games in the conference, UConn has never lost a game. Not one. Only once has it ever even been close when Tulane took the Huskies down to the wire in a narrow 63-60 win during the 2016-17 season.
Other than that, the Huskies’ time in the AAC has been marked by blowouts, and nobody took a worse beatdown than UConn’s Thursday-night opponent: The Wichita State Shockers. The Shockers’ first game against UConn came on Feb. 10, 2018. The Huskies welcomed them to the conference with a 124-43 destruction, a game in which the final score doesn’t even do justice to the domination.
UConn scored 41 points in the first quarter — tied for a program record. It had 67 at the half — one short of a program record. Its 124 total points and 81-point margin of victory both sit third all-time in the team’s record book.
However, that wasn’t the only time the Huskies wiped the floor with a conference opponent.
In 2014-15, UConn led SMU 74-9 at one point in the second half, though the final score would only be 87-28. The year prior, the Huskies beat the Mustangs 102-41.
One of the more surprising blowouts happened in 2016-17 against No. 20 USF. UConn came out on fire and didn’t look back, holding a 24-point lead after ten minutes and a 46-point lead at the half. The Huskies cruised to win 102-37 — its largest margin of victory (65) during the 111-game win streak.
In the 2018 AAC Tournament, UConn put together one of its best defensive performances of all-time against Jamelle Elliot’s Cincinnati Bearcats. The Huskies held Cincinnati without a point in the second quarter and went into the half leading 47-5 thanks to a 38-0 run. UConn won going away, 75-21 and updated the record books in doing so. The Huskies tied the program’s all-time mark for the fewest points allowed in a half while the 21 points were the second-fewest the program ever allowed. The most impressive part of the feat? The Huskies did it all without their best defender, Gabby Williams, who missed the game with a hip injury.
While these blowouts are certainly exceptional for one reason or another, they’re far from outliers. There have been some absurd final scores throughout the years of the Huskies’ conference play that we’ve all just accepted as normal: 100-45 vs. UCF in 2015. 93-34 against Cincinnati and 106-56 against ECU in that year’s AAC Tournament. 94-30 at Tulsa in 2016. A 100-44 victory over USF in the AAC title game. The list goes on and on.
UConn hasn’t just put up video game numbers in the American over the last six years. Any gamers winning that often by those margins would’ve either gotten bored of how easy it was or turned up the difficultly. The fact that the Huskies maintained focus and warded off complacency while going through the dregs of conference play year after year is a major tip of the cap to Geno Auriemma and his staff.
Now with the move to the Big East, UConn will finally get a chance to change the difficultly from “Rookie” mode up to “Pro.”
Auriemma was back at practice after missing the team’s last game against Oklahoma due to diverticulitis surgery. The players apparently got used to playing without their coach as they were running offensive sets prior to practice without anyone on the staff nearby.
“I guess it’s good that they can function without me, that’s a good sign. I don’t want them to function too good because then they might not be so happy to see me back,” Auriemma joked.
While he really didn’t miss much time — roughly five days — Auriemma said the time off in the middle of the season helped give him a healthy dose of perspective. While the coach is undoubtably in the latter half of his career, he’s never given a firm answer on when he plans to retire. Previously, Auriemma’s said he’ll quit when he doesn’t feel like doing it anymore. The time off helped reinforce his passion to keep coaching.
“When you’re away from it for a little bit, you do get a chance to think things through a little more... you do miss it,” he said. “You do feel like you want to be at practice, you want to be on the sidelines, you want to do this. So as long as in the morning when you wake up and feel like that, it’s a good sign and you keep doing it. There’s going to come a time sometime down the road where you’re going to go ‘This is probably not the right thing to do anymore.’ When that time comes, I have no idea. Being away for a little bit of time helps you realize that time’s not here yet.”
Westbrook out, Camara slowly returning
The team also announced Evina Westbrook underwent left knee surgery on New Years’ Eve — the same knee that was operated on back in June. She did show up to practice though, coming in on crutches while sporting a large brace and wrap on her knee. No specific timetable was given for her recovery, just that she’s expected to be ready for the start of next season. Westbrook transferred to UConn from Tennessee over the offseason and was forced to sit out the year after the NCAA denied her waiver and appeal to play immediately.
In more positive news, Batouly Camara was spotted jogging during practice but did not participate in any drills. The redshirt junior hasn’t played yet this season after she underwent a left knee scope back in November. The original timetable for her return was six to eight weeks but that timeframe already passed and Camara still doesn’t look like she’s close to returning.
Scouting Wichita State
The Shockers enter the contest with an 8-5 record, ranked 171st in the nation by Her Hoops Stats. The two team’s only common opponent is Oklahoma, who Wichita State beat 88-83 at home while UConn took down 97-53.
With an offense ranked 173 out of 351 and a defense that is 172nd, the Shockers are statistically one of the most mediocre teams in the nation. However, the one thing Wichita State does well is getting to the free throw line, where it scores 23.8 percent of its points — good for 13th in the country. Because of that, it will be important for Olivia Nelson-Ododa to keep herself out of foul trouble.
How to Watch
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: XL Center