Junior Christyn Williams scores 27, leads No. 1 UConn over No. 5 Iowa in Bueckers vs. Clark showcase
No. 1 Connecticut is returning to the Elite Eight for a 15th consecutive year with a 92-72 win over No. 5 Iowa on Saturday in the Sweet 16.
All eyes coming into the matchup were on UConn freshman Paige Bueckers, a finalist for player of the year awards, and Iowa freshman Caitlin Clark, who led the nation in scoring in the regular season. They both stood out in their own ways — Bueckers came close to a triple-double — but it was their teammates who had to step up if their team was to advance.
UConn juniors Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook led the way along with Aaliyah Edwards, a strong freshman post who is often overlooked next to Bueckers. She came out hot for UConn in a tight first quarter and set the tone for a team-wide effort.
The Huskies moved the ball around, controlled the boards and scooped up second-chance points to take a 15-point lead at halftime. Iowa cut into it, coming within single digits a few different times, but couldn't shut down all of UConn's offensive options.
Bueckers leads Huskies with assists
Bueckers is a pass-first point guard. Those talents are why UConn great Diana Taurasi calls her "the best player in basketball" and they were on display against Iowa.
The freshman had four in the first half as UConn assisted on 17 of 22 field goals. And she kept going in the second with the slick dishes she's become known for.
Paige Bueckers makes difficult passes look so easy pic.twitter.com/MQGh6BWMm6
— Daniel Connolly (@DanielVConnolly) March 27, 2021
When Iowa cut it to single digits early in the fourth, 74-65. But Bueckers hit a 3-pointer and answered Iowa's Gabbie Marshall's made 3 with another of her own. Iowa couldn't come close again after that and it was all UConn, with Geno Auriemma back on the sidelines after a COVID-19 quarantine, down the stretch.
You think Paige Bueckers and @UConnWBB are having fun???#ncaaW pic.twitter.com/2IPqSxpijH
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) March 27, 2021
Bueckers scored 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting and went 2-for-6 from 3-point range. She was on triple-double watch in the final quarter and finished with nine rebounds and eight assists.
Westbrook, a 6-foot junior transfer from Tennessee, came even closer to her own triple-double. She had 17 points on an efficient 7-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, and added 10 assists and nine rebounds with two steals.
Clark isn't enough for Iowa
UConn can move the ball around with ease, so Iowa's poor defense was always going to be an issue. To advance, the Hawkeyes were going to need the best game of Clark's career.
The Huskies were able to keep her at bay early, forcing her away from her favorite way to create a shot with a dribble and step. Clark was 2-for-11 in the first half and missed five of six 3-point attempts.
But in the second half she lit up to bring Iowa back into it.
Caitlin Clark and @IowaWBB heating up... 7-0 run for the Hawkeyes.#ncaaW pic.twitter.com/tVYQiXTnPg
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) March 27, 2021
Clark still reached 21 points, though was far less efficient than she usually plays. She was 7-for-21 from the field including 4-for-12 from 3-point range. Junior Monika Czinano, Clark's favorite post target, had 14 points with three rebounds. McKenna Warnock added 20 and made three of four 3-pointers.
Christyn Williams leads Huskies team effort
UConn controlled nearly every facet of the game. The Huskies assisted on 30 of 40 field goals and were 54.8% from the field. They out-rebounded the Hawkeyes, 42-25, and had 14 second-chance points in the first half alone.
It was a complete team effort to take down Iowa and Williams, the most senior member of the team, led the way. She lit up in the second quarter with 14 points and had 18 in the half on 8-for-14 shooting. By game's end she led with 27 points on 12-for-23 shooting and three 3-pointers.
Christyn Williams was ON FIRE in the first half:
🔥 18 Pts
🔥 8-14 FG pic.twitter.com/eYAyv6DZsr
— ESPN (@espn) March 27, 2021
But arguably the 5-foot-11 guard's largest contribution was smothering Clark up top. Iowa's star freshman couldn't step out and create room against her and didn't have as clear of a look at open teammates. The difference was a quiet Clark in the second quarter.
Edwards, one of UConn's seven freshmen and a big defensive contributor at 6-foot-3, scored 18 points on 9-for-11 shooting with three rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. The 6-foot-5 Olivia Nelson-Ododa had only two buckets, but led the team on the boards with 11 and had seven assists, two steals and a block. Sophomores Aubrey Griffin and Anna Makurat combined for six points and five rebounds off the bench.
Freshmen settle in after jittery first half
It was a jittery, chaotic first few minutes as each team settled in to the most heavily anticipated game of the weekend.
Edwards broke through nearly two minutes in and controlled the first quarter inside while Westbrook was knocking down shots from beyond the arc. UConn held the 22-18 lead after the first quarter in which Clark (one 3-pointer) and Bueckers (two final-minute jumpers) were largely kept in check.
The Huskies leapt out by 10 points, 36-26, halfway through the second quarter in the blink of an eye, which might as well be trademarked fashion. It hovered around a 10-point deficit for the rest of the contest, though Iowa came within seven midway through the third.
The Huskies went into halftime up, 49-35, with 17 assists on 22 made field goals and 26 rebounds to Iowa's 12. Westbrook added 11 points, four rebounds and six assists.
Clark had seven points and made one of six 3-point attempts. She had four of the team's 11 assists.
Bueckers scored six points on 3-for-6 shooting and made her impact in other ways. She had six rebounds and four assists by the break.
More from Yahoo Sports: