STORRS - Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams didn’t play big roles for UConn on last season’s national championship team.
The Husky forwards sent a message during Saturday’s 116-55 first-round rout of Albany that they plan to lead the team in the quest for a fifth straight title.
Collier scored 24 points, Williams had 20 and each pulled down 10 rebounds to help the top seed to the program’s 108th straight win and 25th straight in the NCAA Tournament.
Kia Nurse, who missed the last four games of the regular season with an ankle injury, also scored 24 points. The junior guard when 6-for-7 from 3-point range for the Huskies (33-0), who haven’t lost in the first round since 1993.
“The rest of the team is going to feed off of what we do, whether that’s positive or negative,” Williams said. “So we have to make sure that if we’re going to say something we have to being doing it too. And we have to lead by example.”
Imani Tate had 19 points and Jessica Fequiere scored 16 to lead Albany, which ends the season at 21-12.
The Great Danes, who upset Florida in the opening round of last year’s tournament, were never really in this game
UConn opened each of the first three quarters with 9-0 runs. The Huskies hit 62 percent of their shots and outscored Albany 52-18 in the paint.
“That first three or four minutes of the second half I think kind of ended the game for all intents and purposes,’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said
Collier had 13 first-quarter points and hit a layup and foul shot that gave the Huskies their first double-digit lead at 23-12. UConn led 37-18 after 10 minutes, with 20 points coming in the paint. Collier had 18 points by halftime and Williams added 16 to extend the lead to 58-32.
The Huskies had 34 assists on their 43 baskets.
Crystal Dangerfield scored 16 points and added six assists for the Huskies and Katie Lou Samuelson had 15 points and a career-high nine assists.
“We just play and see what other teams are going to give us each game,” Sameulson said. “Pheese and Gabby were basically unstoppable in the paint and Kia stepped up really big for us, so we were just doing what we could to feed them.”
This was the 13th time since 1997 that UConn’s first-round margin of victory has exceeded the number of points put up by its opponent, but Tate said she didn’t feel the Huskies were running up the score.
“You want to send a message to the rest of the tournament and they did what they had to do,” Albany’s senior guard said. “They played hard for 40 minutes. They’re a great team. They’re not going to sit there and just settle. You’re going to keep going hard.”
UConn: The Huskies 24th straight first-round win improved their record in opening NCAA Tournament games to 25-2. Their loss to Louisville in 1993 followed a loss to Providence in the Big East Tournament, and was the last time UConn dropped two straight games. They have since gone 882 games without back-to-back losses. This was their 37the straight NCAA Tournament win at Gampel Pavilion. They are now 92-9 as a No.1 seed.
Albany: The Great Danes were making their sixth straight NCAA appearance, and fall to 1-6 over that stretch. They came into the game on a six-game winning streak and had won and 12 of their previous 13, including their run through America East Tournament. Their senior class of Cassandra Edwards, Aubrey Hernandez, Bailey Hixon and Tate finish their careers with a record of 101-31.
“I’m really proud of those four and we’re desperately going to miss them, that’s for sure,” said Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee.
The 116 points is tied for the most the Huskies have put up in an NCAA Tournament game. They beat Hampton 116-45 in the first round of the 2000 tournament. The Huskies record for most points in a single game is 126, set against Providence in 126-48 win January of 1998.
The double-doubles were the 14th this season for Collier and 11th for Williams.
CLIMBING TOWARD SUMMITT
This was the 110th NCAA Tournament win for UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who needs just two more to catch the late Pat Summitt for the all-time record. Auriemma also is expected to move up the all-time overall wins list. He sits in fourth place with has 987, just four behind North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell, whose team did not make the tournament.
UConn: The Huskies face the winner of Saturday’s game between Iowa State and Syracuse in the second round on Monday.