STORRS - The occasions that the UConn womenâs basketball team overlooks or looks past an opponent happen about as often as it has losing streaks.
But Sunday was one of those times.
With South Florida here without four key players including its three top scorers, the Huskies figured theyâd have to do little more than show up to produce another American Athletic Conference win. Geno Auriemma, however, showed his starters that would not be acceptable.
The Hall of Fame coach emptied his bench after watching his first five get out-hustled, outworked, and outplayed in the opening 4:35. While the starters returned and made their presence felt in a 63-46 win over the Bulls at Gampel Pavilion, the way they won left a sour taste.
âSometimes it just doesnât look right, and it didnât look right,â Auriemma said. âIt has gotten to the point in coaching that you just make suggestions to players, you canât tell them what to do. You just make a suggestion. If they want to do it, they do it. If they donât, they donât. So I suggested that they sit down. So we were even.
âWe are a very immature team I think, and it shows up in lack of consistency at times. The fact USF was down as many players, the collective mood of the team going out there probably was, âWe donât have to get up for this team. Theyâre really depleted.â That is a sign of immaturity. Itâs as simple as that.â
UConn (14-1 overall, 3-0 AAC) trailed 6-4 when Auriemma made his mass substitution. After falling into an eight-point hole, Molly Bent and Kyla Irwin hit consecutive 3-pointers to get it back to a two-point game at the end of the period.
The starters were back to open the second quarter.
âI was excited to be out there,â Irwin said. âWe knew that we had to do something different than what the starters were doing. We needed to bring a spark to the game. So when we went out there we thought, âLetâs run our stuff and play with energy. We have to get after it.â
âI thought we did OK. We were trying to play together and for the most part we got something good out of it.â
UConn led 26-20 at halftime and pushed it out to 46-30 after three quarters. USF (10-7, 1-2) cut the gap to 10 and had the ball with 3:50 left, but a stop on the defensive end and a Megan Walker 3 started a 10-0 run that put away the Huskiesâ 27th consecutive win over the Bulls.
But much of the discussion during the postgame was about the beginning and not the finish.
âClearly when that happens thereâs usually a good reason and Iâve learned that being here for so long,â UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. âI thought, âWe didnât take care of what we needed to do so what can I do to help the people on the court.â I knew we would get a chance throughout the game to fix it. But until than I was going to do what I needed to do to help the guys on the court.â
Samuelson finished with 19 points and became the 10th UConn player to reach 2,000 with a third-quarter layup.
If one starter was involved for 40 minutes whether on the court or on the bench, it was the Huntington Beach, California, native.
âLou has had to change her personality a lot to become more of a leader,â Auriemma said. âShe has done that, and it is not easy to do for these kids today. Very few kids want to stick themselves out there, because once you put your neck out there and say, I am in charge of this, you open yourself up for a lot. I am proud of her. She has done it. But it is not who she is. She is more of a low key kind of kid.â
Walker (14) and Napheesa Collier (12) joined Samuelson in double figures. Crystal Dangerfield struggled with her shot (1-or-8) while fellow guard Christyn Williams (0 for 2) hardly shot at all.
Bent started the second half in place of the freshman.
âThe sign of a really, really good player is someone who can have an impact on the game when they donât necessarily shoot it well,â Auriemma said of Williams. âThey can help your team by doing other things to help you win. Players sometimes have to learn that.â
The Huskies start a two-game road trip on Wednesday at Tulane (13-3, 3-0) and then travel to Philadelphia for Sundayâs matchup with Temple (4-11, 0-3).