UConn Buzzsaw Makes Temple Consecutive Victim No. 102 And Claims American Regular Season Crown
HARTFORD, Conn. – The glue in the lineup still on the sidelines. A near escape from the previous opponent, beating Tulane 63-60 in New Orleans Saturday night.
The fact that the last time Connecticut and Temple met earlier this month at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia on Feb. 1, the home team actually outscored the vaunted Huskies in the second half of a 28-point 97-69 defeat.
Call these aforementioned points the straws for grasping hope available for fans of the nationally-ranked Owls to avoid becoming UConn’s consecutive victim No. 102 to go with No. 96 the last time the two American Athletic Conference foes met.
Then from the standpoint of strategy and execution by coach Tonya Cardoza and her staff were the facts of reality: To have a chance, don’t turn the ball over and limit second chance points.
So how did that turn out Wednesday night at the XL Center, the main venue of the Huskies’ off-campus venues?
Well, in the second chance points department, things went well to a 10-10 standoff.
As for the rest of it, 26 turnovers converting into a whooping 37-13 in points in transition favoring the Huskies and a companion 21-4 on fast breaks. And that speed helped balloon the points in the paints comparison to 42-4.
When the scoreboard finally stopped spinning, UConn claimed a 90-45 victory and the first formal of the five-step process to a fifth straight NCAA title in capturing the regular season conference crown.
The Huskies (27-0, 14-0 American) now own all four of those and every event with the AAC label since the conference creation out of the breakup of the old Big East.
The next big event after finishing up hosting Memphis Saturday and visiting South Florida Monday will be the following weekend when the American tournament will once again be held at the Mohegan Sun near New London, Conn.
As for Temple (21-6, 11-3), which recently acquired national ranking status in the USA Today Coaches poll (#20) and Associated Press (media) rankings (#23) the all-time second place finish in the American will have to stay on hold.
The runner up slot that was forecast for Temple by the American coaches back in the fall could come Saturday afternoon when Cincinnati and Cardoza’s good friend Jamelle Elliott visit McGonigle Hall at 2 p.m. or it may have to wait until the Owls finish up at Central Florida Monday night.
Cardoza and Elliott, a former UConn star, spent long stints together as aides to Hall of Fame Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, whose program’s record playing as the number one team in the nation now stands at 400-15.
Meanwhile, no Kia Nurse again due to nagging foot problems, no difficulty for Connecticut, which offers warm hugs and handshakes before playing former members of the Huskies family and rarely offers anything more in terms of good will the following 40 minutes.
Napheesa Collier shot a near perfect 13-for-14 from the field, including connecting on her two 3-point attempts, and she made all three foul shots on the way to a career-high 31 points accompanied by 13 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal.
"You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s had a better 27 games than Napheesa Collier,” Auriemma said. “It’s just amazing, the consistency that kid plays at.”
Gabby Williams was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field in picking up 15 points, including her 1,000th career point, while Katie Lou Samuelson scored 19, and Saniya Chang scored 11.
“The kid never takes a bad shot,” Auriemma said of Williams. “She doesn’t force shots. She doesn’t throw stuff up there with no intention of making it. She doesn’t waste opportunities.
"Gabby struggled a little bit at Tulane and was disappointed in herself. And came back today and that’s what’s going to happen. Those two (she and Collier) have a pretty distinctive advantage over most people that they play against.
“And when they’re able to take and use that advantage, you get what happened tonight, especially in the second half.”
The Temple trio of guards all got their share of double figures in scoring but below the explosions of recent games. Feyonda Fitzgerald had 12 points and three assists, while Alliya Butts had 10 points and Donnaizha Fountain scored 12 points.
"We played them a little different than last time," Auriemma said, though his team was successful defending the Temple guard tandem in Philadelphia.
The game also featured the farewell of longtime official Dennis DeMayo, the Philadelphia native who had one of the easier nights in his 30 years in the profession on the way to retirement.
As for taking out the problems at Tulane on Temple, Auriemma said of his current group, which has surprised the country after being tabbed as a rebuilding unit on the nation’s powerhouse back in the preseason:
“It’s really difficult with this particular team what to gauge what their responses are,” he observed. “Because they don’t show a lot of either negative or positive emotion. They pretty much stay at a certain level and they don’t deviate that much.
“It was hard to tell whether they were upset, whether they were angry, whether they were disappointed, what were they? I don’t know. And we got home and they all said the right things, `We got to get back to basics, we got to get back to doing the things we were doing before, you know, Lou, we got to work harder defensively, we got to do this, she said we, should have been I, however, the idea that if we work really really hard on the defensive end and go back to what we were doing, which is hard to do.
“It’s hard to maintain a certain level from Nov. 14 till March 1. It’s impossible. There’s got to be peaks and valleys and ups and downs, and that’s when you go to your bench and bring in a lot of people and you get a lot of oomph, and some of the guys get a chance to get a breather in a game, and we don’t have that.
"Eventually, it's going to show, and luckily it hasn’t shown that much this year. But, I have to look really, really hard to see it because they’re the same all the time.”
Auriemma has been the one person, of all people, totally baffled by the continued glorified state of his team and expressed as much again in the postgame press conference.
Even at the end of the season I'll never be convinced that this is working because I see these guys every day and I just shake my head," said Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown and actually played against DeMayo in their youths.
"Up to this point they have been really good when they needed to be really good, so in that respect it has been a masterpiece,” Auriemma quipped. “We have created a Rembrandt, what am I saying, that is blasphemy (then using Italian painters for his illustration).
“I see them every day in practice and I just can't get those words to come out of my mouth. There is so much we have to do to get so much better. Probably because I know that we are close to where nobody can beat us, and we are that close to Saturday, and haven't felt like that in a couple years so I am always walking around like that."