Auriemma benches 2 stars, No. 2 UConn women beat Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Coach Geno Auriemma didn’t like the way No. 2 Connecticut opened the game against Memphis, so he sent a message — sitting his two best players the bulk of the game.
The benching of Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck left it up to the Huskies’ reserves, and they eventually ran away from the Tigers 80-34 on Saturday.
Saniya Chong awakened UConn from a lackluster first half to finish with 17 points and Kia Nurse added 18. Gabby Williams had 16 points, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis 11 and Moriah Jefferson 10.
But the key stats were from UConn’s two leading scorers — Stewart and Tuck, who separately headed to the bench after about 5 minutes and never returned. Auriemma made it clear it was about their approach.
“This isn’t some subliminal message I’m sending to them where I expect them to read between the lines,” Auriemma said. “This is very flat out.”
He said he didn’t care “if you’re the national player of the year or the greatest thing that’s ever walked the face of the Earth playing basketball. There’s a certain level of play that I’ve been accustomed to at Connecticut. If you’re not there, then you’re not playing.”
The Huskies (22-1, 12-0 American Athletic Conference) appeared to be looking ahead to Monday night’s matchup at home against No. 1 South Carolina with sloppy play, poor shooting and a lack of enthusiasm in the first half while taking a 28-16 lead.
Chong was a major factor in a 21-2 run spanning the halves that turned a close game into a 21-point lead for UConn. She was 5 of 7 from the field, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range to help UConn win its 21st straight.
“I’m getting more in a rhythm,” Chong said. “I’ve been working hard in practice to get my shot in and making sure I’m hitting open threes.”
After creating a bit of a buffer before halftime, reserves like Chong and Williams, who was 7 of 13 in the game and grabbed 13 rebounds, filled in admirably for the disciplined starters.
“When she gets her confidence going, she’s really, really good,” Auriemma said about Chong. “Today, she was great. Her and Gabby were really good.”
Ariel Hearn led Memphis (11-12, 5-7) with 13 points and Mooriah Rowser had 10.
From the start, Memphis wanted no part of taking the ball inside, settling for jumpers and getting caught in several shot clock violations or desperation shots.
“The game plan, honestly, against UConn and their starting post players was not to go inside,” Memphis coach Melissa McFerrin said. “We didn’t think we could challenge their shotblockers.”
Despite the slow start, UConn got a jolt from reserve Chong, who hit a trio of shots for 12 points in the half.
The second half was much more efficient for UConn as the Huskies outscored Memphis 52-18.
Auriemma indicated it was up to his two stars to decide if they were ready to play Monday against the nation’s top-ranked team.
“You either live up to the standards that have been set here at Connecticut or you don’t play,” he said, later adding: “This is the world we live in, so they better grow up.”
UCONN: The Huskies have won their last 70 games against unranked opponents. . UConn’s last loss to an unranked opponent was 57-56 to St. John’s on Feb. 18, 2012.
Memphis: Memphis is 0-6 against teams ranked second in the country. All of those games were against Tennessee. ..Memphis is 19-77 all-time against ranked teams.
UCONN: Hosts No. 1 South Carolina on Monday night.
Memphis: Visits Houston on Wednesday night.