STORRS — The chance to see the UConn women’s basketball team with nearly all its much-heralded components intact was too much for fans to pass up. Even if it was an exhibition game, the Huskies tuneup against Southern Connecticut nearly packed Gampel Pavilion with 9,664 fans on Saturday.
And the reconnected Huskies didn’t disappoint, though coach Geno Auriemma is sure to find “teachable moments” in a game like this. UConn won the well-attended workout, 97-38.
The game was most notable for the return of former national player of the year Paige Bueckers after missing a year with a major knee injury. In limited minutes, she showed off a few of her old tricks around the basket, did a little of everything — seven points, seven assists, four rebounds and a steal in 12 minutes — and, far as we know, came out healthy. She’ll ramp it up more in the season opener against Dayton on Wednesday night.
UConn showed the effect of having all its weapons on the floor, moving the ball, getting high-percentage shots. The Huskies launched enough threes to space the floor, hitting 11 pf 32, opening things up inside for easy baskets, and they did not miss many, going 23 for 33 on twos. Azzi Fudd, making 4 of 6 on threes, led UConn with 18 points, Aaliyah Edwards, 7 for 9 from the floor, scored 16, Aubrey Griffin, 5 for 6, had 14 and Caroline Ducharme 10. The Huskies scored 28 points off Southern turnovers, 42 in the paint and 24 on the fast break.
The overmatched Owls could do little more than hoist perimeter shots on their end, but coach Kate Lynch was hoping for her team to play hard, have fun and toughen and speed up for the opponents on their regular-season schedule.
Bueckers was introduced last among UConn starters and nearly full house at Gampel gave her the rousing reception one would expect. Then the Huskies went to work in the way one would expect against their Division II opponents.
Busses from New Haven brought close to 200 from Southern Connecticut’s campus to watch the Owls on the biggest stage in the state. Julianna Bonilla hit a 3-pointer on SCSU’s first possession, then UConn ran off a 20-0 run beginning with Fudd’s three. Bueckers scored her first points on a drive to the basket, with a slick finish, one of those “Paige things.”
The Huskies moved the ball, working for high-percentage shots, a lot of Edwards inside, not settling, and hit 13 of their first 17 from the field. They led 32-8 after the first quarter, all the regulars involved.
Auriemma began playing his freshmen in the second quarter. Ice Brady scored her first points with a three-point play, and KK Arnold, bringing the burst of energy that was talked about, made a drive the basket on the next possession. Griffin was productive in the transition game.
By halftime, UConn led 52-17. Edwards had 14 points, Griffin 12, and the Huskies, 4-for-14 on threes, were 17 for 20 inside the arc. Bonilla had the opening three, then Delaney Haines all 14 of the Owls’ other points and ended up leading her team with that number.