Nine Games That Defined The UConn Women’s Basketball Season
By any typical measure, the UConn women’s basketball team had a successful season. They won big games and they didn’t stumble in games against inferior teams.
The Huskies finished 36-1, nearly perfect.
They beat UConn, South Carolina (twice), UCLA, Maryland, and more. Most of those wins were by decisive (in some cases comical) margins. They appeared to be well on their way to a 12th national championship.
And then came Notre Dame the second time around. The Huskies lost on a last-second overtime shot reminiscent of last year.
Coach Geno Auriemma is the first to point out that success in Connecticut means a perfect season and a national championship.
“We’re so used to so much success at Connecticut that 32, or 36, or 37, 38, 39 — doesn’t matter — ‘and-1’ is not a successful season,” Auriemma said earlier this month. “If you were one of my players walking around after that Mississippi State game, that’s kind of what you heard. So when people say, ‘How hard is it to play at Connecticut?’ It’s really, really, really hard.”
And while that is the measuring stick that Auriemma and many fans use, there were 37 games this season and many highs (and a few lows) along the way. Here are some of the defining moments:
Date: Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017
UConn’s season started where it finished. The Huskies kicked off the 2017-18 season in Columbus, Ohio with a win over Stanford. The day was meant to be a showcase for the Final Four and it quickly became clear that UConn planned to be back at the end of the season. UConn held Stanford to only 14 points in the first half and ran away with the win. The Huskies were led by sophomore Crystal Dangerfield who began her emergence with 24 points. And while UConn had lost its previous game (in the Final Four to Mississippi State), this win ensured the Huskies did not lose consecutive games for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
No Katie Lou? No Problem
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017
In front of Kobe Bryant, Hall of Famer Ann Meyers Drysdale and 9,000 fans at the historical Pauley Pavilion, UConn blew out UCLA 78-60. It was meant to be a homecoming game for All-American Katie Lou Samuelson, but she sat out with an injury. It didn’t matter for then-No. 5 UCLA as Napheesa Collier had 23 points and Crystal Dangerfield added 17. It was also a West Coast trip where the Huskies would go on to defeat Michigan State in Oregon and Nevada in Gabby Williams’ hometown of Reno, Nev.
Notre Dame, Round 1
Opponent: Notre Dame
Date: Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017
Staring down an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter, hopes of an undefeated regular season appeared to be fading for UConn on this Sunday afternoon at the XL Center. Katie Lou Samuelson had limped off the court and Gabby Williams sat on the bench with a migraine. And that’s when the rally began. UConn would outscore Notre Dame 26-9 in the fourth quarter, led by Azura Stevens who had 10 in the period, Kia Nurse who had seven, and strong defense all-around.
Make It 1,000
Date: Dec. 19, 2017
The stats were impressive. Napheesa Collier had 21 points and eight rebounds. Azura Stevens had 20 points and eight rebounds. Gabby Williams recorded 10 rebounds and eight assists. But the performance of the Huskies would be overshadowed by the significance of the win — it was Geno Auriemma’s 1,000th career victory. The win was followed by a celebration on court with the current and many former players who celebrated the coach who has become synonymous with the sport. Auriemma joined Pat Summit, Tara VanDerveer and Sylvia Hatchell as the only coaches in women’s basketball history to win 1,000 games. Auriemma, however, did it fastest.
Nail-Biter In Austin
Date: Jan. 15, 2018
A tough No. 9 Texas team took it to UConn throughout the game. The Huskies trailed early by double digits, but managed to turn the game around and secure a 75-71 victory in the closing seconds in Austin, Tex. UConn was out-rebounded during this one and coach Geno Auriemma would spend much of the rest of the season pushing the Huskies to improve their rebounding habits. Sinking 17 of 19 foul shots certainly helped UConn in this one, along with 19 points from Katie Lou Samuelson, who took an elbow to the face earlier in the game. She would finish with a black eye and the Huskies emerged with a win.
Another AAC Title
Opponent: South Florida
Date: March 6, 2018
The UConn women’s basketball team has not lost a conference game since the Big East was re-branded as the American Athletic Conference. That remained true with the Huskies rolling through the conference tournament, ending with another championship win over South Florida. Gabby Williams had a standout performance, sinking 9 of 11 shots for 19 points, along with seven rebounds, six assists and five steals. It was the fifth AAC title in five years and a familiar sight, but an important moment in the Huskies’ season.
Opponent: St. Francis (Pa.)
Date: March 17, 2018
The season did not come without the usual criticism that Geno Auriemma and the UConn team often face. Pundits and spectators sporadically questioned whether some of the blowouts were good for the sport or whether fans even enjoyed the wins. They were loud after the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in which UConn had 94 points by halftime and won by 88. But Auriemma seemed unfazed after the game: “Some games are a struggle. This was not a struggle. And it could have been a lot worse.”
Down Goes Duke
Date: March 24, 2018
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie had some harsh words for UConn’s Geno Auriemma when her former player Azura Stevens transferred to play in Storrs. In her first game against her former team, Stevens scored eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds. It wasn’t a blowout, but UConn was able to grind out a win with Napheesa Collier scoring 16 and pulling down 11 rebounds. The bad blood seemed to have simmered and the better team prevailed on its way to the Elite 8.
So Long, South Carolina
Opponent: South Carolina
Date: March 26, 2018
When UConn visited South Carolina on Feb. 1, most expected a battle between two of the top teams in the country. UConn walked away from that one with a 83-58 win, able to slow down the Gamecocks’ senior standout A’ja Wilson. This time around, Wilson would score 27, but the result was the same with the Huskies pulling away early en route to their 11th Final Four in 11 years. They were led by Crystal Dangerfield who scored 21 points, including five 3-pointers in the first half, and Gabby Williams who added 23 points.
36 And 1
Opponent: Notre Dame
Date: Friday, March 30, 2018
The Huskies went on another undefeated run, similar to the 2016-17 season, only to have it end in heartbreaking fashion.
The back-and-forth game looked to be headed in Notre Dame’s favor as regulation was winding down. But after a Crystal Dangerfield 3-pointer and a Kia Nurse steal and layup, the game was tied heading into overtime.
And then, one more time, it was tied in the closing seconds when Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hit a step-back jumper with just one second left on the clock. It sealed a 91-89 win and ended the Huskies’ perfect season one game short of the national championship.
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