Print this story

Huskies roll over ECU behind 20 from Nurse, No. 2 South Carolina on deck.

POSTED February 07, 2016
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

STORRS: The soft smile said it all.

Breanna Stewart and the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team is ready, make that more than ready to head south for a match between the two top teams in the country.

The top ranked Huskies will travel to South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks on Monday night in the most anticipated game of the 2015-2016 campaign to date and can finally talk about it and in two days, get to it.

“We are going into a hostile environment against the number two team in the country,” Stewart said, “It’s going to be crazy and that’s what you want.”

Want after the Huskies continue to run unimpeded through American Athletic Conference foes like the East Carolina team that came to Storrs and left on the short side of a 92-46 final.

The Huskies, now 22-0, 12-0 in the AAC and on a 59-game winning streak, head south on Sunday to prepare to do participate in their 22nd, No. 1 versus No. 2 battle while the Gamecocks, also unbeaten at 22-0 (10-0 in the SEC) will be in their third big time match up.

Make no mistake about it, this is going to be fun on Monday night where, in front of a loud and biased crowd not wearing Huskies colors, the road team will look to stay atop the mountain they have owned all year.

It’s been the not so small elephant in the room for some time that the team and head coach Geno Auriemma didn’t want to take about, less to forget the target that was in front of them.

After being challenged Maryland back on December 28 of last year in an 83-73 win, UConn won all but one game (75-59 versus USF) by lopsided scores of 40 to 50 plus points.

It’s time for the next challenge, something Auriemma and players like Stewart and Moriah Jefferson live for and against a team looking to take something from them, the motivation is high.

These Huskies share well together but not with others.

“I think South Carolina has a chip on their shoulder,” Stewart said, “From last year when they came here and falling short in the final four. They want to redeem themselves in front of all their home fans.”

The head coach appreciates what teams like South Carolina are willing to do with big games in February that decide nothing in the big picture, but do provide a window into how the end of the season might just look like.

“The willingness to put yourself in that position enough times that you are going to win that game,” Auriemma said, “We have been in that situation, I don’t know how many times (21). If you put yourself in that situation, which they are willing to do, which a lot of schools are not, then I think you’re going to reap the benefits of that. Like coming up here and playing us last year, win or lose, it helped them get to the Final Four. So on Monday night if they win, that doesn’t give them the National Championship and that doesn’t give them or doesn’t make them the favorite to win the National Championship. And if we win we’re not either because a lot can happen between now and whenever those games are played. I think tomorrow (Monday) is just another step for them in understanding that we need to play these games. We need to keep doing this so it becomes old and we’re not still talking about this year after year. Number one versus number two.”

Defense wins championships they say (although scoring over 90 per game is not a bad combo either) and over their last 12 games since giving up 73 against Maryland at Madison Square Garden, UConn has allowed a very stingy 43 points per game and on Saturday, their length and speed saw them run out to a 14-0 lead in less than four minutes before 9780 at Gampel.

Good news was evident from a player who had been struggling over the past month but found her grove on Saturday to the tune of a game high 20 points.

Kia Nurse scored eight points in the opening quarter and connected on 8 of 11 shots, 4 of 7 from three point land as her confidence returned.

“I think I was just more loose today in warm ups,” Nurse said, “Not overthinking anything or over thinking the results of the game or anything. For me, not thinking as much leads to me playing much better,”

So, UConn opponent, working on the white board on who to take away, what’s your plan now?

Taking Stewart out of the action is a great plan, not so easy to accomplish with Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson and company right there to pick up the slack, if there ever would be.

Don’t forget, Stewart has always come up big on the brightest stages and will on one of those again on Monday night.

So now if Nurse, who hit big shots in the National Championship game a year ago, gets rolling, please let me know how all can be guarded.

Six games remain in the regular season after Monday night down south and there is still a long way to go before Indianapolis but one would think that a win over the home standing Gamecocks would go a long way towards a perfect regular season.

South Carolina is looking to take the ball from the Huskies and own the top spot for a bit, not sure how well that’s going to go with Auriemma and company.

Should be fun on Monday night at 7. Tune in.

For more from Timothy W. Gaffney click here