Lineup changes key UConn victory over Creighton in home opener, 96-60

STORRS, Conn. – The day started with the awarding of rings to the members of the 2013-14 national champion Connecticut Huskies. Afterwards, Geno Auriemma’s team sought to put the past behind it; both their championship history, and the loss to Stanford from Monday night. Opening with a 9-0 start, UConn went on to defeat Creighton, 96-60, in front of 7,123 in attendance.

With Kia Nurse and Morgan Tuck in the starting lineup for the Huskies, there was an aggressiveness and focus not seen in the previous two regular season games.  Ball movement was crisp (24 assists on 36 baskets), defense was intense (nine steals), and the shots were falling (55.4 percent for the game).

Breanna Stewart led the Huskies with 25 points on perfect 10-for-10 shooting from the floor (3-for-3 from three-point line), along with 10 rebounds and four assists. However, as Stewart emphasized afterwards, it was in the flow of the offense, which helped everyone excel.

“We really wanted to show that the way we played Monday night isn’t how this team can play,” said Stewart. “Yes, shots were going in and they felt great, but it was all within the offense, and other people got going, and we had a real collective effort.”

Auriemma felt the return of Tuck, who missed almost all of last season with knee problems, was key to Stewart’s success.

“Having Morgan out there really helps her (Stewart),” he said. “We finally got a bunch of screens set for her; she got open a lot, and got a lot of easy buckets, wide open jump shots, that kind of thing.” Despite her lofty numbers, Auriemma continued, saying that he was very pleased with the way Stewart got her teammates involved.

“Stewie knows it’s more important to Stewie’s ability to win a national championship if Gabby Williams gets to be really, really good. If some of the other guys get a lot of confidence. Stewie’s good enough and had enough success that she doesn’t need to prove in a game like today she could get 40. Stewie’s a team player, more than anything.”

Tuck finished the game with 15 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, most of that damage being done in the first half, when UConn opened up a 49-28 lead.

Nurse, the freshman with experience on the Canadian national team, was particularly upset about the loss to Stanford, according to Auriemma, and anxious to put it past her.

“Kia was really, really disappointed after the Stanford game; I mean really, really disappointed,” emphasized Auriemma. “She felt like she contributed to the loss in some ways. Obviously, fouling out bothered her a lot, and she did what great competitors do, they come back and put it behind them and use it as a motivator and play even better than what you expect. I’m not surprised she did that, she is one tough kid.”

Nurse expounded on Auriemma’s thoughts, adding “I had more confidence in myself today, coming off the other game and using it as motivation.”

“I’ve played in a lot of games internationally and what not, but I should have been able to adjust to the refs faster than I did,” said Nurse. “That’s something that really frustrated me, and offensively I didn’t look to shoot the ball, I didn’t look to be as aggressive as I usually am, and that caused some trouble for myself and that allowed Stanford to double team Stewie.”

Nurse was ready today, scoring 22 points in 31 minutes, while spending most of the game chasing Creighton leading scorer Marissa Janning, the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, around the court.  Janning scored 15 points to lead the Blue Jays, but needed 21 shots to get there.

Still, Creighton used their three-point shooting to keep the game interesting; the outcome was not in doubt for long, but their continuing ball movement and shooting ability forced Auriemma’s team to play defense all game.

“They’re not an easy team to play against; every time you make a mistake there’s a wide open three. I think they made more threes against us today than anyone has in a long time,” said Auriemma.

He also had praise for Janning, praising her guile and ability to get off shots.

“You make a mistake and Janning knows how to use her body, she knows how to ghet shots off. She’s not as big as I thought she’d be, not as tall, but she’s very crafty, very crafty.”

“We weren’t going to score in the post. We’re not big enough and they’re too long. We were going to have to make a lot of threes,” said Creighton head coach Jim Flanery about his team’s game plan.”

Flanery praised his opponent, not just for their skill, but for their work ethic.

“I think people look at their players and think that they have really great players. The fact is they do have great players, but they also execute incredibly well; they play incredibly hard, and they don’t give you a margin of error.”

Kiah Stokes contributed eight points and ten rebounds, while Moriah Jefferson had ten points and six assists for UConn. Freshman Gabby Williams, who did not play against Stanford, scored eleven points and pulled down five rebounds.

Alexis Akin-Otiko added 12 for Creighton.

In the end, Stewart echoed the sentiments of her coach; it will take a team effort for the 2014-15 Huskies to go as far as many predicted.

“I feel getting other people going, even going into our bench is huge, because if they can have that confidence going in to the next game and continue to build as we grow throughout the season, it’s going to be hard to stop them. It’s impossible to win a championship by yourself. I’m here to try to do something special with this team but it’s going to take a collective effort, and we need everyone to be on the same page and to be efficient.”

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