UConn shook off a sluggish first half to rout another conference opponent and win its 100th consecutive regular-season game.
Azura Stevens came off the bench to lead five players in double figures with 19 points as the top-ranked Huskies beat UCF 80-44 on Tuesday night.
UConn, which came in averaging 91 points a game, rallied from its lowest-scoring first half this season.
The Huskies led 32-19 at intermission. Coach Geno Auriemma said his players didn’t react well to UCF’s physical defense and were looking for fouls rather than baskets.
He conveyed that message in the locker room at halftime, keeping his team off the court until there were less than 30 seconds left before the start of the third period.
“It took the whole time out to get some of our players to understand the way this game was going to be played and to embrace the way it’s played,” he said.
“If you want to be a great team, you have to win every which way. Once we got that squared away, we were good to go.”
UConn responded with a 48-point second half, outscoring the Knights 12-2 over the final four minutes of the third quarter to take a 56-32 lead.
They cruised from there.
Stevens hit nine of her 13 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds for Connecticut (14-0, 4-0 American), for her fourth double-double of the season and 28th of her career.
Kay Kay Wright scored 17 points for Central Florida (11-6, 3-1), which held the Huskies to 36 percent shooting in the first half. UConn made almost 64 percent of its shots after intermission.
“The third and especially the fourth (quarters), we lost a lot of focus,” said coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.”
The Huskies held UCF to 33 percent shooting and the Knights made just four of their 15 shots from 3-point range.
Kia Nurse had 13 points for UConn; Napheesa Collier added 12 and Crystal Dangerfield and Katie Lou Samuelson each chipped in with 11 points.
But Auriemma credited senior Gabby Williams for energizing the team in the second half. She scored eight points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out five assists, making several key plays during the Huskies’ third-quarter run.
“We have to learn how to fight, we have to learn how to be tough and have some edge,” Williams said. “We still don’t really have some edge.”
UCF: The Knights came into the game in a three-way tie atop the conference standings, and were ranked No. 10 in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to just over 54 points per game.
“They are starting to find their identity,” said Abrahamson-Hendersaon. “I want them to always be fearless. I want them to be strong, empowered young women. I want them to fight all the time, no matter what it is, if it’s basketball or life, whatever it may be.”
UConn: UConn’s win extends several other streaks. The Huskies have won 86 straight games in the American Athletic Conference. They also have beaten 144 straight unranked opponents since losing to St. John’s in February 2012. UConn’s previous regular-season loss came at Stanford, 88-86 in overtime, on Nov. 17, 2014.
LITTLE IN RESERVE
UConn’s five starters each played at least 30 minutes. Stevens was the only Husky to see action off the bench until there was six minutes to go and the game had been decided. Auriemma said that was a product of a couple of sloppy practices.
“One of the problems with our guys off the bench, especially our freshmen, is that they are incapable of having three good days in a row. It’s just not possible,” he said. “And until they do, they are not going to play.”
This was the third straight team that UConn has held under 50 points. The Huskies outrebounded UCF 43-30 and outscored them in the paint 44-12. They also scored 26 points off 19 turnovers.
UCF: The Knights play at rival USF on Sunday.
UConn: The Huskies travel to Texas to take on Houston on Saturday, before a matchup with No. 7 Texas on Jan 15.