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UConn women get tested early, beat South Carolina for 100th win in a row

Connecticut's Gabby Williams shoots as South Carolina's Alaina

Connecticut's Gabby Williams shoots as South Carolina's Alaina Coates, right, defends, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Storrs, Conn. Photo Credit: AP / Jessica Hill

STORRS, Conn. — There appears to be no promised land that the Connecticut’s women’s basketball team cannot reach, nothing capable of denying a program that has made a game out of making the improbable seem impossibly routine.

So it seemed downright audacious Monday night when South Carolina visited Gampel Pavilion and tried to deny the Huskies one of those outrageous records that only a program like UConn can dream of.

Playing with the determination of a team with no desire to be a footnote in history, No. 6 South Carolina took small leads throughout the second quarter but eventually fell, 66-55, as the top-ranked Huskies lifted their record to 25-0 and extended their NCAA-record winning streak to 100 games.

Gabby Williams had 26 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and four steals for the Huskies. Napheesa Collier added 18 points and nine rebounds. A’ja Wilson had 17 points for South Carolina (21-3).

“Sometimes it’s just meant to be,” coach Geno Auriemma said minutes after the ceiling rained paper $100 bills with his face on them. “I thought tonight was going to be a really, really difficult game to win under the best of circumstances . . . We’re an injury, a couple fouls away from being average at best, but it was meant to be. C’mon, you could see the signs.”

South Carolina led by as many as three in the second quarter, but after the Gamecocks went ahead 29-28 with 2:22 left in the first half, UConn bit back, scoring the last seven to go into the break up 35-29.

“They’re opportunistic,’’ South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “They wait. They wait for you to make the mistakes . . . They put you in position where you have to be on guard. You have to have your guard up every time you’re playing them.’’

The Huskies already had the NCAA record for most consecutive wins — 100 is just a nice, round, ridiculous number — but as much as this streak is impressive, it’s their dominance within the streak that has made them legendary. Of the 100 wins, 25 were by at least 50 points. Only two games were decided by single digits.

Before Monday night’s game, the Huskies’ Twitter account noted that during the streak, UConn had beaten 27 ranked opponents by an average margin of 23.6 points. So in many ways, this win — tighter than the score indicated — was strange.

The Huskies held strong despite a metaphorical no-show by their leading scorer, Katie Lou Samuelson, who had six points and shot 2-for-12. She entered the game averaging 21.4 points per game and shooting 50 percent from the field but might have been bothered by the illness that nearly forced her to sit out Saturday’s game (listed as questionable, she had scored 22 points in that one).

Instead, Williams helped showcase how well-balanced this team really is.

“She’s an extraordinary talent and you hear that word a lot [special],’’ Auriemma said. “There’s nothing special about Gabby. I think the term ‘special’ gets thrown around like it’s ordinary. She’s not special. What she is is an extraordinary athlete who understands what she is and then tries to live up to it. Not everybody does.

“Her basketball skills, slowly but surely, have caught up — and they’re not completely caught up yet — to her extraordinary talent. When that time comes, when her basketball skills completely catch up, it’ll be the next wave of women’s basketball players that we see . . . There’s no one else like her in all of college basketball.’’

For a program whose name is synonymous with dominance, this season began in the rarest of ways: with actual questions. Granted, those questions weren’t “will the Huskies be any good?” but “will UConn be as good as it’s always been?”

The departures of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck — who went one, two and three in the WNBA Draft — indicated that the Huskies would at least resemble a human basketball team this season rather than a crew of genetically superior Space Jam Monsters. No such luck, everybody else.

Some impressive numbers to come out of UConn’s 100-game win streak:

818

Days since UConn last lost a game.

98

Double-digit wins.

65

Largest margin of victory.

56

Victories by at least 40 points.

28

Ranked teams beaten.

9

Wins over top-five opponents.

2

National titles won.

Source: NCAA.com

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