While not obligatory, it seems appropriate the top-ranked team in women’s college basketball have a nickname to distinguish it in the Phi Slamma Jamma sense.
And after the Huskies lost Morgan Tuck and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to injury after the Stanford win Nov. 11, a suitable one surfaced – The Magnificent Seven.
Now it seems that even underestimates the capacity of this team.
Now 21 games into the regular season after Sunday’s 81-53 win over South Florida before 13,207 the XL Center – the largest of the season – there is something noteworthy about one of the nation’s two unbeaten (Notre Dame) teams.
They can win with even six.
Since freshman Saniya Chong was sick, the Huskies pushed through the first 38 minutes, 50 seconds with just six players doing all the work. With 1:10 to play, walk-ons Tierney Lawlor and Briana Pulido finally made their first appearance.
“She [Chong] told me on the bench when I was just getting ready to put her in,” Geno Auriemma said. “She said, ‘I don’t feel good.’ I told her, ‘I don’t either, but I’m here. If I only showed up when I felt good, I would be here like twice a month.
“She said my head hurts, my stomach hurts, my eyes hurt. So I said, ‘Now we’re even.”
Sunday’s superpower was three-point shooting. UConn (21-0, 8-0) made 14, establishing a season-high. They drained 10 of their first 11 in the opening 12:54 to put the game away.
It started with Breanna Stewart, who tied her career-high with 29 points. She was 4 of 5 from three in the first half and ended 5-for-9.
Bria Hartley had four three-pointers in the first half to score her first 16 points. She ended with 26 points and was 6 of 7 from three.
“I don’t know if there is anyone who is playing much better right now that Bria,” Geno Auriemma said. “And Stewie is Stewie. …I have a lot of confidence in those two and when they play like they played tonight, we are a very tough team to play against.”
South Florida (10-9, 5-3) was led by guard Courtney Williams, who scored 23 points (11 of 25) in 40 minutes.
Hartley, her jammed, bandaged left thumb bandaged along every step of the way, has now scored at least 20 points in her last three games after never doing it consecutively in the first 131 of her All-American career. Hartley has scored 76 points in her last three.
“I’ve just been playing with a lot of confidence,” Hartley said. “My teammates are going a great job finding me and then screening for me and I want to make sure I do my part by knocking down the shots. I went through a stretch of like eight games that I shot very poorly. I did not want that to happen again.”
Stewart and Hartley combined to shoot 20 of 37, 11 of 16 from three. They scored 55 of the points.
“When a team is down players like we are, everyone else needs to take on as many different roles as they can,” said Stewart, who now has 890 career points in 57 games. “Hopefull, practice will help us continue to do that as the season goes on.”
Next in line on Sunday was Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the program’s single-season three-point leader. She scored eight points, shooting 2 of 6 from three.
“If you had told me we would make 14 threes and K [Mosqueda-Lewis] would only have two, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Auriemma said.
It was a remarkable game in another sense, as well. UConn, averaging 21.4 assists this season, dished on 25 of its 30 field goals, 15 of 16 in the first-half field goals to open a 45-27 lead.
Moriah Jefferson had seven assists and one turnover in 33 minutes. Mosqueda-Lewis had six assists and no turnovers in 35. In fact, UConn turned the ball over just five times.
But what truly characterized UConn Sunday and into the future is how its overall predicament is the same yet somewhat different than it was before.
Tuck’s season has been felled by chronic right knee issues that will require surgery that will sideline her for six months. And instead of Mosqueda-Lewis being out, it was sophomore Brianna Banks who missed Sunday’s game with a swollen left ankle.
Until Banks returns, UConn will be essentially the same as it was from Nov. 11 to Dec. 17 when Tuck (knee) and Mosqueda-Lewis (elbow) missed eight games – so many minutes, so few options.
On Sunday, there were some tough moments at the start, as there often have been this season. The Huskies, behind for just 26 minutes, 11 seconds in their first 20 games, actually trailed three separate times in the first seven minutes for a cumulative total of 3:00.
They trailed 2-0 for 22 seconds. They trailed 7-6, 9-6 and 11-8 for 2:26. And finally, they were down 13-11 for 12 seconds.
And then, they didn’t trail again.
Stewart’s three-pointer with 13:11 to play put UConn ahead for good, 14-13. From there, the slew of three-pointer steadily fattened the bulge.