STORRS, Conn. — Third-ranked UConn’s 103-35 win over Butler Tuesday night in front of a fanless Gampel Pavilion was met with little fuss. After all, Butler is the worst team in the Big East, and a road game for the Huskies at No. 25 Tennessee, their second ranked opponent of the season, looms Thursday.
As unremarkable as the end result may appear on paper, it did still have meaning. UConn coach Geno Auriemma officially surpassed Tennessee legend Pat Summitt’s 1,098 all-time wins mark, moving into sole possession of the No. 2 spot on the list.
“I wish she was still coaching. I wish she was still with us, coaching,” Auriemma said when asked about passing Summitt, his former longtime rival who retired in 2012 and later died from Alzheimer’s complications in 2016. “And I wish I had to work a lot harder to catch her.”
Auriemma remains in striking distance of No. 5 Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, who overtook Summitt’s mark last month and now owns 1,105 career wins.
1,099 career wins, 11 national championships, 20 Final Four berths, including the last 12. But the number that may mean the most to Auriemma is 36. That’s the number of years he and associate head coach Chris Dailey have spent at UConn, turning the program from nothing into one of the great dynasties in all of sports.
“It’s an opportunity to reflect on almost four decades of coming here every day and doing the same thing and trying to do it the best that you can do it,” Auriemma added. “And the fact that it’s been at one school probably is more significant to me than the actual number.
“When that day comes and I’m not coming to work anymore, I’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Yeah, here’s what we did, and here’s how we did it.’ I won’t believe it, but here’s what we did and here’s how we did it.”
Auriemma reached the milestone with the kind of rout of a conference opponent that the Huskies have practically made standard. UConn ran away with it after halftime, outscoring the Bulldogs 33-10 in the third to go up by nearly 50 with 10 minutes to play. All five starters had reached double figures going into the fourth, and UConn held Butler to five points in both the second and fourth periods.
Junior forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa led the team with 18, while sophomore forward Aubrey Griffin shined in her first career start, earning her first double-double of the season and third of her career (17 points and 10 rebounds). Griffin came one rebound short of a double-double in her last outing, too, against Providence (18 points, nine rebounds).
“We’re a team that takes a little bit of time to get their momentum going, and Aubrey’s the same way,” Auriemma said. “It takes a little bit of time, but when Aubrey gets going, she gets into a nice flow, and she just impacts the game in so many ways.”
Griffin was the difference maker in last year’s matchup against Tennessee, where she chipped in 13 points, seven rebounds (five offensive), five steals and three assists off the bench.
“Looking forward to who we’re playing Thursday night,” Auriemma continued, “we’re going to need her to be [as] good [as Tuesday] and then more than that.”
It took some time for the team to shake off the rust after not playing for 10 days due to a series of game postponements. But the Huskies finished the first quarter on a 13-6 run and held Butler to only five points in the second period to extend their lead to 45-20 at the half. Evina Westbrook and Nelson-Ododa led the way early, hitting double figures before the break, while Christyn Williams’ hot shooting from the perimeter got her going.
The junior rebounded from a scoreless night last time out against Providence with 17 points, including 3-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc, as well as three rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
“Christyn’s had probably her three best practices of her career the last three practices,” Auriemma said. “It shows.”
UConn found its groove after halftime, with Bueckers and Nelson-Ododa combining for 16 of UConn’s 33 third-quarter points. Westbrook reached double-figures for the fifth straight game with 14, only missing a single shot in the fourth quarter.
UConn edged Butler 46-2 in points off turnovers, forcing 32 Bulldogs turnovers.
Freshman Paige Bueckers had only three points at the half, though she finished with 13. She attempted only eight shots the whole night, but still made her impact felt with four steals and eight assists.