UConn coach Geno Auriemma was in the locker room not feeling well, the Creighton women's basketball record crowd was loud, and the Huskies found themselves down double digits seven minutes after tipoff.
It was just another night in this strange season for the 10th-ranked Huskies.
“Our players know when they sign up to come to Connecticut, that’s what you sign up for — you get everybody’s best shot,” associate head coach Chris Dailey said. “You have to be able to embrace that, take everybody’s best shot and then figure out a way to win. Today they did that.”
Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams scored 17 points apiece, and the Huskies shook off a slow start to beat Creighton 76-56 on Wednesday night with Auriemma staying in the locker room the entire game.
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“We had shoot-around and everything was a regular day, and then right before the game he just wasn’t feeling well. He thought it was better he rest,” said Dailey, who is 13-0 over 37 years when coaching in Auriemma’s place.
Auriemma’s illness was not related to COVID-19, Dailey said. He missed the first two rounds of NCAA Tournament last year after testing positive for COVID.
The Huskies (14-4, 9-0 Big East) have had a run of players battle COVID-19 and injuries, starting in December when star Paige Bueckers hurt her left knee, and two of their four losses have come against unranked teams.
They weren't sharp in a win over Providence on Sunday, and Creighton had reason to believe it had a chance to end UConn's 168-game conference win streak when Lauren Jensen made two straight 3-pointers to open the game while getting her team out to an 18-6 lead.
Caroline Ducharme’s jumper that bounced twice on the front of the rim before dropping through put them in front for the first time in the third quarter and the Huskies were in full control after that, building their lead to 22 points.
Dailey said wins like this would help the Huskies as they play through February and into the postseason.
“To be able to come into a place like this and take their best shot that first quarter and first half and still have what it takes to win, and go out and win big in the second half, that says a lot about our players,” Dailey said.
Creighton (15-6, 10-3) went without a field goal for more than six minutes spanning the halves while UConn went on an 18-0 run to erase a 32-20 deficit.
“To me, the biggest disappointment was if we had rebounded in that second quarter, and sustained the lead that we built, it could have been a different game. We didn’t commit to that," Creighton coach Jim Flanery said.
Nelson-Ododa added 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season, and she also had six assists. Ducharme scored 13 points and Evina Westbrook had 10.
Molly Mogensen had career highs with 15 points and three 3-pointers for the Bluejays.
The Huskies found no offensive rhythm until deep into the second quarter. They missed 11 of their first 13 shots and turned over the ball six times in the opening quarter.
Williams, the Huskies' leading scorer since Bueckers went out, picked up two fouls and went to the bench with a minute left in the first quarter. She didn't return until the start of the third quarter, tying it 32-all on UConn's first possession out of halftime.
Creighton, the Big East's top 3-point shooting team, made 6 of its first 13 while maintaining an 8- to 12-point lead until late in the second quarter.
The Huskies closed the half on a 10-0 run that cut it to 32-30 at the break. The 6-foot-5 Nelson-Ododa scored six of the points on easy inside baskets.
“We talked a lot at halftime that if we could maintain our defensive effort and energy the way it was the first half and get into a better flow offensively," Dailey said, “we felt pretty confident we'd have a chance to win the game.”
UConn: The Huskies are going through one of their busiest weeks of the season, with four games in eight days, and they're doing it with a roster limited because of injuries. Dorka Juhasz missed her second straight game with a right foot injury.
Creighton: This started what could be a season-defining stretch for the Bluejays. They're playing three of the four top teams in the Big East, with their next two on the road against DePaul and Marquette.
UConn: hosts Butler on Friday.
Creighton: visits DePaul on Friday.