Storrs, Conn—When you at UConn and play for coach Geno Auriemma there is a high expectations when you hit the court, irregardless of your class status.
The Huskies were down three upperclassmen for the night. Christyn Williams sat out the first game of her UConn career with a left ankle injury while Aubrey Griffin only played 1:46 before she asked to come out and limped off the floor. Head coach Geno Auriemma told SNY postgame that she banged her knee in practice. Anna Makurat also missed her fourth straight game with a lower leg injury.
Freshman guard Paige Bueckers scored a season-high 32 points, Aaliyah Edwards also set a season best with 22 points and No. 3 Connecticut beat St. John’s 94-62 in Storrs, Conn at the Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies (12-1 overall, 10-0 Big East) have now played 13 games which makes them eligible for the NCAA Tournament.
Bueckers hit 13 of 20 shots, including 5 of 6 from downtown, and scored 20 points for the third straight game. Paige also had seven assists. She definitely was the floor general for the Huskies.
“They looked like they knew what they were doing and Paige looked like their ring leader,” Auriemma said. “They seemed to have some fun out there and played some, really, really good minutes.”
The Huskies sprinted out to an early 8-0 run to take a 10-2 lead before St. John’s answered with a stretch of hot shooting to get back within one with 2:57 left in the first. After that, UConn led 22-12 after 10 minutes closing the quarter out with nine straight points.
UConn made some adjustments on defense in the second quarter which made the Red Storm miss seven of its last nine shots before the half. The Huskies scored 17 of the final 19 points in the half and went into the break with a 20-point lead and was never challenged in the second half.
The Huskies continued to play its brand of basketball in the third quarter and put the game away for good with a 11-0 run. With the lead over 30 points, Auriemma put a lineup on the floor with five freshmen, including Poffenbarger, for the remainder of the period. Poffenbarger, who joined UConn last month after graduating high school early.
Aaliyah Edwards was 9 of 11 from the floor and pulled down nine boards for the Huskies and Nika Muhl chipped in 11 points and six assists.
“Obviously Christyn, her being a big scoring threat, having her out, I knew I had to step it up a little big more,” Bueckers said.
St. John’s Leilani Correa fell two points shy of her career high, scored 33 points to lead the Red Storm (5-10, 2-8).
The fourth quarter the Huskies were in cruise control mode as the freshman class accumulated some minutes on the floor.
“Anytime there’s an injury, it obviously opens up an opportunity for someone to step up and fill that void,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “In our case, it happens to be freshmen.”
Three freshmen started, including Nika Muhl, and four played at least 12 minutes. At one point in the third quarter, coach Auriemma had a lineup that included Bueckers, Edwards, Muhl, Mir McLean, and Saylor Poffenbarger.
“When the season started, four kids were freshmen and one kid was in high school,” Auriemma noted. “Now all five of them are here at UConn and they’re all playing at the same time, they looked like they knew what they were doing.”
St. John’s shot 50% from the floor, including 52% in the first half, but trailed 44-24 at intermission.
UConn shot 53 percent and had 27 assists on 35 field goals. They also forced 27 turnovers.
“We need to play better defensively, that’s the reason why we were down,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “We didn’t defend, rebound or take one free throw.”
Next: The Huskies will have one day off before traveling to face Marquette on Friday, Feb. 5.
NOTE: With its 13th game, UConn reached the NCAA threshold for postseason eligibility.
STATS OF THE NIGHT
UConn had 27 assists on 35 baskets and scored 37 points off of 27 St. John’s turnovers.