<
>

UConn crushes South Carolina in top-10 matchup

play
UConn dominates South Carolina (1:20)

In a matchup of top-10 teams, Kia Nurse and Katie Lou Samuelson combine to score 43 points as No. 1 Connecticut routs No. 7 South Carolina 83-58. (1:20)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It's OK to admit it. Unless you are a UConn fan, you might not watch every minute of the Huskies' games. You might even skip some games altogether. Foregone conclusions aren't enthralling, and a lot of the Huskies games are really just about watching how well UConn can play.

Such has been the reality for the Huskies for a long time now.

Top-ranked UConn entered Thursday's game at No. 7 South Carolina having beaten its opponents this season by an average of 36.5 points. The Huskies have won 132 of their past 133 games, a streak broken only by the upset in overtime to Mississippi State in the national semifinal last year.

Still, the hope of a close game, or even a kind of close game, drew a sellout crowd of 18,000 fans to Colonial Life Arena.

But it didn't happen. The nonconference matchup went about the same as the Huskies' American Athletic Conference games typically go. UConn won 83-58, moving to 21-0 with likely just one test left before the NCAA tournament: No. 4 Louisville visits Storrs, Connecticut, on Feb. 12 (ESPN2).

Of course, like South Carolina, Louisville hasn't had success against UConn. The Cardinals are 1-16 in the series with the Huskies, with that one victory coming in 1993. The Gamecocks are 0-6 against UConn, with all of the games decided by double digits.

UConn has not lost a game to a league foe since the American formed in 2013-14. Who knows when (if?) that's ever going to happen. So while weekly drama goes on in other conferences -- and the SEC is probably at the top of the list, for multiple reasons -- the Huskies stay busy pursuing excellence. And taking advantage of chances like that on Thursday to remind everyone tuning in: Yeah, we're still UConn.

"It's what we try to do," Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said of how his team virtually never fails to deliver big time when the lights are the brightest. "We're trying to come out every game that we play -- sometimes we're more successful than others -- and play in such a way that if you really know a lot about basketball, you're going to say, 'Wow, that's amazing.'

"And if you don't know but a little about basketball, you're going to be able to appreciate what those kids are doing. Our players thrive in this environment. That's why they come to Connecticut."

On Thursday, the second quarter was essentially 10 minutes of the Huskies making every other team really jealous. They were brilliant, outscoring South Carolina 29-8 and shooting 61.1 percent from the field. Whatever hopes there were for this being a competitive game, the second quarter squashed them. The Gamecocks trailed 53-24 at halftime, and there was no coming back from that.

Still, the South Carolina crowd stayed as engaged as it could, cheering for whatever went right for the Gamecocks. Their star, senior A'ja Wilson, had a rough night offensively, going 4-of-18 from the field and 6-of-8 from the foul line for 14 points. She said she apologized to her teammates after the game, but South Carolina coach Dawn Staley put it into proper perspective.

"I thought A'ja shouldered all the pressure, and that's hard," Staley said. "Of course, we lean on her a lot, but she (usually) doesn't feel it. I thought she felt it tonight.

"She felt she had to have a tremendous performance for us to win. But she didn't have to do it in every play she was involved in. And I think she felt it every play. But we have to give her a little bit of help."

Wilson did have 16 rebounds and six blocks. And the Gamecocks' defense got better as the game went on, as UConn shot 27.8 percent in the third quarter and 31.3 in the fourth. Admittedly, it's not as if the game ever felt like it was getting tighter, but Staley knows she has to take some positives out of this, including freshman Bianca Jackson's team-high 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting.

Because next up for South Carolina is a rematch of last season's national championship game versus Mississippi State. The No. 2 Bulldogs had quite a tussle at No. 15 Missouri on Thursday but held on to win 57-53 and remain the country's other undefeated team besides UConn. There will be a full house in Starkville, Mississippi, on Big Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) for the Bulldogs versus the Gamecocks.

It has been an emotional week for South Carolina in the aftermath of last Sunday's antagonistic game against Missouri, with the allegations made by Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk about the behavior of South Carolina's crowd and his assertion that Staley was responsible for it.

Staley and the Gamecocks stressed there was no hangover from the Missouri situation going into the game with UConn. But the reality is that it would have been hard for all of it to be completely out of the Gamecocks' minds.

Still, the way UConn played, even a South Carolina team with no distractions whatsoever would have struggled.

"When they play like they did tonight, it's really, really hard to beat us."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma on Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams

Seniors Kia Nurse (23 points) and Gabby Williams (14 points, 14 rebounds) led the way for the Huskies, with juniors Katie Lou Samuelson (20 points) and Napheesa Collier (19) doing their thing too.

Two years ago when UConn played here at South Carolina, winning 66-54, Auriemma sounded downright sentimental afterward in complimenting then-seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck on their leadership for the Huskies and how much he appreciated the way they played.

Nurse and Williams have had to uphold the UConn senior mantle this season, and Auriemma has been on them at times about living up to that incredibly high standard. But he had little to complain about Thursday.

"I've been giving the two of them a hard time, because they sometimes act like something other than seniors," Auriemma said. "So it was bothering me. I told them there were a lot of things about the two of them that I was constantly harping on every day.

"And I gotta tell you: Those two ... when they play like they did tonight, it's really, really hard to beat us."