Mar. 2—STORRS — As of Monday night, the top-ranked UConn women's basketball team has gone eight straight regular seasons without losing a conference game. The last defeat in a league game came in triple-overtime on March 4, 2013, at Notre Dame.
Some of those have been easy.
This one, a 63-53 Big East Conference victory over Marquette at Gampel Pavilion, wasn't one of them, with UConn coach Geno Auriemma referring to it as "one of those March defensive slogs."
"We talked about that with our team that at this time of the year you would love it to be, yeah, everybody comes down, wide open 3s, you knock 'em in, 'isn't that great?'" Auriemma said.
"The reality of the situation is that's generally not how the games are played. There's been times we made 'em look like that. We made 'em look real easy and we've been able to get up and down the floor easy at this time of the year. But I think most teams right now, this particular year, are tired. ... Everybody needs a break."
It was UConn's post tandem of 6-foot-5 junior forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa and 6-3 freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards who came to the rescue offensively against Marquette on a night the Huskies shot just 3-for-16 from 3-point range.
Nelson-Ododa had 19 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high six blocked shots and Edwards added 16 points, eight rebounds and three steals off the bench for UConn (21-1, 18-0), which had already clinched the Big East regular-season title on Feb. 25 at Creighton.
The Huskies, who also got 13 points from freshman Paige Bueckers, were coming off a five-game road trip, having last played at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 10 against Seton Hall.
Auriemma said the fact UConn got 18 offensive rebounds, five by Edwards, to Marquette's seven, is an indication that the Golden Eagles were choosing to get back on defense rather than go for offensive boards, forcing UConn to play primarily in the halfcourt.
UConn had just two fast break points as opposed to the 21 it had in Saturday's fast-moving victory at Butler. The Huskies also had just 12 assists against Marquette; Saturday it had 26.
"I think we tried our best just to be aggressive and tough, especially on the offensive boards," said Nelson-Ododa, who registered her sixth double-double of the season, "definitely just trying to rebound any misses or just go after the ball or try and allow for a second-chance opportunity for our team."
"The second half, Olivia and Aaliyah carried the team," Auriemma said. "We said at halftime, somebody's going to have to step up and make some plays and do something other than clap for Paige (the team's leading scorer) to shoot the ball. I thought those two really stepped up big time."
Edwards, as she has done so often recently, entered the game with 3 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter and immediately impacted the game, scoring on a superlative inside move to give the Huskies a 15-8 edge — "she just keeps getting better and better," Ododa said of her younger teammate.
Nelson-Ododa had 10 points and three blocked shots, Bueckers nine points and Edwards eight points and three steals as UConn took a 37-25 lead at halftime.
After UConn led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, Marquette pulled to within 51-42 at the end of three on a 3-pointer by Lauren Van Kleunen with 27 seconds remaining.
Bueckers scored the first two baskets of the fourth quarter and Nelson-Ododa added a mid-range jump shot to give the Huskies some breathing room at 57-42, but Marquette's Camryn Taylor, in particular, wasn't finished. Taylor had 11 points in the fourth quarter, 19 overall for the Golden Eagles (17-5, 14-4), who continually cut into UConn's lead.
UConn has now won 157 straight conference games, regular-season and tournament games, beginning with the 2013-14 season. The Huskies spent the last seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference, compiling an overall record of 139-0, before returning to the Big East this year.
"We take a lot of pride in that, for sure," Nelson-Ododa said, "because we look at what past teams have done and what they've been able to accomplish and we definitely want to carry that on and be the team to help carry that on."
The No. 1-seeded Huskies will next play in the Big East tournament quarterfinals at noon Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena, facing the winner of Friday's game between No. 8 St. John's and No. 9 Xavier. UConn leaves for Mohegan on Thursday and will quarantine prior to Saturday in accordance with the league's COVID-19 protocols.
— Earlier Monday, Bueckers was named as one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation's top point guard. Headed into Monday's game, Bueckers was leading UConn with 20.1 points per game, 6.5 assists, 2.5 steals and a field goal percentage of .495 (ranked fourth nationally).
Bueckers set UConn's single-game record Saturday with 14 assists against Butler.
Other finalists are Aari McDonald (Arizona), DiDi Richards (Baylor), Caitlin Clark (Iowa) and Tiana Mangakahia (Syracuse).
Previous Lieberman Award winners from UConn are Sue Bird (2000-02), Diana Taurasi (2003-04), Renee Montgomery (2009) and Moriah Jefferson (2015-12).