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The 27-0 team that has room for improvement. UConn at 102 straight after 90-45 win over Temple.

POSTED February 23, 2017
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

HARTFORD: It’s probably hard for the rest of the country to think that the number one ranked team, the UConn Huskies, at 27-0, are still a work in progress.

Don’t tell that to Tonya Cordova and the Temple Owls who were on the receiving end of the Huskies 102nd consecutive win, a 90-45 shellacking that gave UConn their fourth straight American Athletic Conference regular season title.

To listen to head Coach Geno Auriemma though, you might understand why he still has concerns for a team that looks great one minute and then looks like they did on Saturday when they just got by Tulane by a 63-60 final.

“Look, I don’t care if we are 40-0 at the end of the season,” Auriemma said. “I’ll never be convinced that this is working. Because I see these guys every day and I just shake my head. They have a tendency to be really good when they have to be really good and up to this point, they have been really good when they needed to be very good. In that respect, they are a masterpiece. We’ve created a Michelangelo or a Leonardo da Vinci. But 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 with this group.”

Watching them enough, you get a sense of what the coach is talking about with a thin margin between being great or being beaten.

“It’s because I know that we are that close to nobody being able to beat us,” Auriemma said. “And that we are that close to what we were on Saturday and I haven’t thought like that in a couple of years.”

On Wednesday against an Owls team that shot 27.1 percent from the field for the game, it was the Huskies defense that clamped down on the Temple frontcourt of Alliya Butts (10 points on 4-14 shooting), Feyonda Fitzgerald (12 points on 4-14 shooting) and Donnaizha Fountain (12 points on 4-13 shooting).

On the offensive side, sophomore Napheesa Collier continued her assault on the basket, pouring in 31 points on 13-14 shooting and with 13 rebounds, earned her 11th double-double of the season.

“You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has had a better 27 games than Napheesa Collier,” Auriemma said. “It’s just amazing the consistency that that kid plays at.”

Gabby Williams, who sat the entire second quarter after picking up three first quarter fouls, scored 15 and grabbed seven rebounds on 7-7 shooting.

So from the forward position, UConn shot 20 of 21, a tough combination to overcome for any team.

“The key to all good teams,” Auriemma said, “Are how well they can handle the ball and pass the ball and shoot it. Having really good guards is one thing and obviously you can’t have a great team without really good guards but our guards right now are a little bit suspect, given that they don’t have a lot of playing experience and not a lot of experience running the show. Not having Kia out there is really a challenge for them but I’ve always thought that if your forwards can handle it and pass it and shoot it than you have a chance to be really, really good.”

Crystal Dangerfield, who had a tough night on Saturday in the UConn three point win over Tulane, fared better at the point, a place she will be the remainder of the regular season as Nurse gets healthy.

The freshman had seven points and five assists to go along with three turnovers.

Katie Lou Samuelson appeared to break out of her shooting slump, especially after a rocky first quarter and finished with 19 points on 6 for 14 shooting, 3 of 9 from three-point land.

Samuelson did pitch in with a team high seven assists and six steals as UConn forced 26 Owls turnovers that they turned into 37 points.

How much did the Huskies dominate the inside?

Try a 42-4 advantage in the paint.

The score notwithstanding, there were times, especially when Williams went to the bench, that the team just didn’t look crisp.

Passes went awry that are normally guaranteed to find their mark. That’s the margin of error the head coach talks about.

On Saturday, not a lot went right for UConn while Tulane had the game of their season.

The fact that it does not happen more often is something that surprises the head coach on a daily basis.

The beauty is still there, it’s just not been as easy for this group but hey, most thought they would have a few losses on their resume by this time of the year and still may.

“We will know more by the end of March,” Auriemma said.  

NOTES: Tonya Cardoza received a heartfelt welcome from the UConn faithful, as did Will Crockett.   

The Huskies have two regular season games left. Senior Day is Saturday when upperclassmen Saniya Chong and Tierney Lawlor will be honored before UConn takes on Memphis at 4:30 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion.

The finish their campaign on Monday at #22 USF at 7 p.m.

American Athletic Conference starts on Friday, March 3 but with an anticipated first round bye, the Huskies will have an opportunity to play Saturday afternoon, Sunday evening and Monday night if they make it to the championship game.

Impressive bench for the Huskies on Wednesday night, unfortunately, they were all in strett cloths. Kia Nurse, who is not expected back before the end of the regualr season, joined transfers Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara as bystanders.

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