UConn women's basketball's Westbrook shined in return to Tennessee

Published on Friday, 22 January 2021 11:25
Written by CARL ADAMEC

JOURNAL INQUIRER

Evina Westbrook headed to the visitor’s locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday night after the UConn women’s basketball team’s 67-61 win over Tennessee with one thought in mind.

“One of the first words that came out of my mouth was, ‘I’m glad it’s over,’ ” Westbrook said.

Westbrook, who played her first two seasons for the Lady Vols, left another impression before leaving Knoxville for maybe the last time.

The redshirt junior guard finished with 15 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Her back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter started a 9-0 run that gave the third-ranked Huskies a lead they would not relinquish.

“I thought she was unbelievably good,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She made some clutch, clutch shots in big moments in the game. It couldn’t have been easy for her to come here but I couldn’t have asked her to play any better.”

At shootaround, he pulled her aside.

“Coach said to play with emotion but not let it get the best of me,” Westbrook said. “ I didn’t try to do too much and let the game come to me, play with my teammates and try to get them open. I didn’t want to get out of character.

“I leaned on my teammates for a lot of it because I knew they were going to have my back in any situation.”

Westbrook broke the game’s last tie with her trey with 6:44 to go and added a second 66 seconds later. After Tennessee cut a nine-point deficit to two in the final minute, Westbrook whipped a pass to Paige Bueckers with the shot clock winding down and the freshman’s trey was a dagger.

With 14.1 seconds left, Westbrook hit a free throw to account for the final score.

“I didn’t come in here wanting to prove people wrong,” Westbrook said. “I wanted to prove to people who believed in me from the start right.

“Those two threes were big for us and gave us a lot of momentum, gave us a lot of energy. That’s what my team needed. That’s any game, not because we were playing Tennessee. Whatever the team needs me to do, whether it’s assists or box outs or screens, I’m going to try and do that.”

She did just that.

RIVALRY RENEWABLE?

One thing Auriemma had in common with late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was they’d play any opponent anywhere at anytime.

Thursday night’s game concludes the two-game contract between UConn and Tennessee. On Monday, Auriemma said, “I think people have to realize that it’s not a big deal anymore.” Then after hearing Tuesday that Summitt’s former point guard, Lady Vols’ coach Kellie Harper, was hopeful they could continue to play, Auriemma said he could see it happen.

Could it?

“Playing them is a good game,” Auriemma said after his team’s win. “It’s been awhile since the game was easy to put together. Up to now it wasn’t. Now that it feels like everyone is OK with doing it, especially when the fans come back, you want to give your players the chance to play the best teams in the toughest environments.”

A crowd of 3,553 was allowed in for the first meeting between UConn and Tennessee in Knoxville in 15 years.

"My first thought was that I hate we weren’t going to have 22,000 people here today. That would have been really cool for both teams,” Harper said.

UConn leads the series with Tennessee 15-9 and is 5-3 against the Lady Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena.

HOG HEAVEN

Christyn Williams isn’t looking past the Huskies’ Big East home game with Georgetown Saturday, but the Little Rock, Arkansas native is looking forward to going home next week.

UConn will take on Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville next Thursday.

“I’m really excited for that,” Williams said. “It’s my homecoming game and usually they do it for your senior year but mine is coming early. I haven’t played there since my last high school state championship game. So I’m excited and I’m glad my family will be able to see me.”

Fayetteville is a three-hour drive from Little Rock. UConn was to start a home-and-home series with Arkansas-Little Rock this season with Williams getting a homecoming game in 2021-22 before the pandemic hit. The fate of that series is unknown.

Next Thursday’s date came open for the Razorbacks when Vanderbilt opted out of the season Monday. Auriemma got on the phone with Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors and the schools put the game together.

“We’re going to get on a plane and go to Arkansas and they’re going to try and score 120 on us because that’s the way they play,” Auriemma said. “We’ve got three SEC teams. Who knows who we might end up playing if this thing keeps going sideways?

“I called Neighbors and said, ‘Mike, do you want to play?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to play.’ At this point it doesn’t matter who you play, when you play, where you play. You need to play games and play people who are pretty good if you can.”

HUSKY BITES

Auriemma and Harper each made $10,000 personal donations that will benefit the Pat Summitt Foundation and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame … Bueckers and Tennessee’s Jordan Horston were teammates on USA Basketball’s 2018 national team that won the gold medal at the FIBA U-17 World Cup. The duo made just 3-of-25 shots in their first game as opponents … Aubrey Griffin made her second straight start for UConn and had 10 points, four rebounds, and two blocked shots in 23 minutes. … While Tennessee players wore “Summitt” on the back of their uniforms to honor the late Hall of Fame coach, UConn’s uniforms had “Dee” above the star on the back to honor long-time coach and administrator Dee Rowe, who died on Jan. 10.



Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Friday, 22 January 2021 11:25. Updated: Friday, 22 January 2021 11:28.