Originally published February 15, 2017 for Double G Sports
On Monday at the Gampel Pavilion the 2016-17 University of Connecticut Huskies earned their 100th consecutive victory, defeating the University of South Carolina 66-55. The Huskies are now 25-0 for the season, while the Gamecocks fall to 21-3. The game was the highest-rated college basketball game on ESPN2 this season among men’s and women’s telecasts, and the highest-rated women’s college basketball regular season game since 2010.
Monday’s matchup also produced 69,000 unique viewers online, becoming the most streamed women’s college basketball regular-season game to date televised by ESPN.
The streak continues
Ahead of Monday’s game, the UCONN Women’s Basketball team already had the top winning streak in all of college basketball. In 2010, head coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies surpassed the 88-game winning streak of the legendary John Wooden and the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins.
The Huskies would stretch the 2010-11 streak to 90 wins, before having the clock reset by a 71-59 loss to the Stanford Cardinal. The 2010-11 Huskies team would also lose to the University of Notre Dame in the NCAA Final Four round. Stanford and Notre Dame would be a pain in the Huskies side through 2014. A loss to the Cardinal on November 17, 2014 at Maples Pavilion would be the last for UCONN to-date.
While there was much excitement around the 100th win, including special Geno $100 bills dropped from the rafters, this teams knows they are only the vessel for the accomplishment. Monday’s win is special for UCONN the program. However, the 2016-17 Huskies are still looking for a magic moment that is all their own, “This 100-win streak isn’t theirs,” said Auriemma postgame, “but if they win a national championship that all theirs. So, that means a lot, I think, if we’re able to do that down the road than what happened tonight.”
Keys to success for UCONN
For a team that lacks a super star or a deep bench, UCONN’s 25-0 record has been anything but easy. The Huskies have worked hard to forge their own path this season. “We get pushed in every single day in practice and in games especially,” said junior Kia Nurse who has been with UCONN for all 100 wins.
However, it won’t just be drills and systems that gets this UCONN team to another NCAA title, it will take a strong mental game as well. This is where Auriemma will need to push his team, “I [tell] them all the time, ‘Last year, none of you guys ever played and we’d still win by 20.’ But now they know, if they don’t show up every night and play great, there’s a good chance we’re gonna lose.” He added, “The having to be great every night … they were tired. They were tired of being pushed.”
The returners Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier, Gabby Williams, Saniya Chong and Tierney Lawler averaged 17.2 minutes per game all of last season (38 games). Including Monday, the returning six average 25.2 minutes per game (25 games) this season. Nurse is the only returning player that averaged more than 25 minutes per game last season. Additionally, five of the six returners are the top points scorers this season, while only Samuelson and Nurse broke into the top five last season.
For a team that lacks a superstar or a deep bench, UCONN must continue to push through mental and physical fatigue inevitably placed on the number one team in the country. For the starters, the demands of at least 30 minutes per game may be new, but it is not impossible to adjust to, “We find a way to get things done and find a way to finish it off and work out butts off to do it” said Nurse.
Junior forward Gabby Williams added, “We didn’t return any All-Americans. We didn’t really know who was going to be the guy or the guys that took over. We’ve all taken a piece of that responsibility.” For her part, Williams dropped 26 points while posting 14 rebounds on Monday night.
Meaning in the number 100
Much was made about UCONN and the number 100. However, South Carolina also have 100 on the mind. Head coach Dawn Staley selects a theme each season that the team and fans can rally behind. The theme of the Gamecocks 2016-17 season is “100”: One goal, zero limits, and zero excuses.
In the South Carolina games notes, this season’s theme is explained:
“The ‘100’ this season plays off the meaning of being 100 in terms of commitment to the team and realizing its goals, but each numeral in 100 also represents an evolving principle of the team and season. The “1” reflects one goal, one dream, one team, one family and one focus. The first “0” stands for no boundaries and no complaints. The second “0” represents zero excuses, zero selfishness and zero tolerance.”
On Monday, South Carolina fell shy of 100% against UCONN on Monday. “We have to know how to play a full 40 minutes of the game,” said junior forward A’ja Wilson in the postgame press conference, “it all has to come together each quarter, each possession.”
Coach Staley believed her team did a good job of sticking to the game plan for the better part of the first half, “The first 18 minutes of the first half, I thought, favored out game plan.” The Gamecocks took a 29-28 lead with 2:27 left in the second quarter off an Allisha Gray jumper. However, UCONN went on to score seven unanswered points before halftime. South Carolina would not lead again for the remainder of the game.
Staley continued, “We just let our guard down. And when you let your guard down a team like UCONN’s gonna make you pay every time.” The Gamecocks conceded 42.4% of UCONN’s 66 points from fast break and second chance opportunities. Additionally, UCONN outscored South Carolina in the paint (34-26).
Keys to success for South Carolina
While the media and opponents might not have labeled any one UCONN player as a superstar, South Carolina has at least four main targets: A’ja Wilson, Alaina Coates, and Allisha Gray. The trio posted 54.5% of South Carolina’s points and averaged 31 minutes in the loss to UCONN on Monday. With the size of South Carolina in the paint, the team can be dominant. Four of USC’s five starters measure at 6’0 or taller.
However, there were times it appeared South Carolina was having trouble feeding the ball down low. That opened up scoring for players like Bianca Cuevas-Moore. At the half, Cuevas-Moore only had 3 points, she ended the game with 11 points and doing 3-4 from three point range. Tyasha Harris also stepped up in the second half, adding seven points.
However, if teams continue to cut off South Carolina’s game down low, taking more perimeter shots will be key to spreading the defense. Making the perimeter shots will be key to South Carolina staying in games.