The UConn womenâ€™s basketball team needed help and got it from an old Big East acquaintance.
A year ago, the Huskies were looking into scheduling a homecoming game for Sparks, Nevada, native Gabby Williams, who was on her way to an All-American junior season. The only problem was that UConnâ€™s 13-game non-league schedule was filled
Enter Seton Hall and coach Tony Bozzella.
UConn and Seton Hall had signed a deal to start a home-and-home series during the 2017-18 season. But the Huskies reached out to Bozzella and the Pirates, who agreed to push back the series by one year, giving UConn the opening to schedule Tuesday nightâ€™s game against Nevada in Reno.
â€śIâ€™m sure it wasnâ€™t easy for Tony to work through the scheduling hardship that this caused,â€ť UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. â€śBut I am very grateful that he was so accommodating.â€ť
For Bozzella, who is in his fifth season at Seton Hall following stops at Iona and LIU-Brooklyn, it was an easy call.
â€śWhen they asked us to push it back, it was a no-brainer once I heard the reason,â€ť Bozzella said. â€śWe also love to find ways to get our girls homecoming games and I think that is one of the best parts of a student-athlete experience.â€ť
Williams had 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, and five steals in 34 minutes Tuesday night as No. 1 UConn rolled past Nevada 88-57 before a school and state record crowd of 7,815 at the Lawlor Events Center.
Putting together the game for Williams, once the Huskies had the schedule opening, was easy.
â€śRight after Gabby signed with us, Nevada reached out and made it known that it would be more than willing to schedule a homecoming game for her,â€ť Auriemma said. â€śUNR is in a beautiful setting and the trip to Reno was even more enjoyable because we all felt the excitement that surrounded the game.â€ť
The series with Seton Hall brings together the former Big East foes. The Huskies and Pirates played their first game on Dec. 23, 1978, and played as league rivals from 1982 through 2013. UConn leads the series 49-10, having won 44 of the last 45 meetings. The Huskiesâ€™ 29-game winning streak against the Pirates is the longest against any opponent in school history.
Bozzella, though, has led a turnaround after taking over for Anne Donovan. The 1989 Seton Hall graduate has compiled an 87-49 record and guided Seton Hall to three postseason appearances in four years. After advancing to the 2014 WNIT, the Pirates received a bid to the 2015 NCAA Tournament - their first NCAA trip in 20 years - and followed up with a second NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016. Coincidentally, Seton Hall played both of its NCAA Tournament games under Bozzella at Gampel Pavilion.
The Pirates will take a 4-1 record into tonightâ€™s home game with Marist at Walsh Gymnasium.
â€śGeno and his staff have always been great friends and mentors to me since I got into coaching, so it was really an honor when they reached out to us to start up this series,â€ť Bozzella said. â€śIâ€™m of a firm belief that playing a program like UConn is beneficial to your program in more ways than one, so we were excited to get them on our schedule - especially since they will be coming to play us in our gym as well.â€ť
UConn placed six players - seniors Williams and Kia Nurse, juniors Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier, and Azura Stevens, and sophomore Crystal Dangerfield - on the 50-player Naismith Trophy preseason watch list announced by the Atlanta Tipoff Club on Wednesday.
The Huskiesâ€™ six selections were the most for any school. Third-ranked Notre Dame, which faces UConn at the XL Center in Hartford on Sunday, had four candidates in Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, and Jackie Young. Ohio State and Mississippi State had three each.
Williams, Nurse, Samuelson, and Collier were also named to the 25-player Wade Trophy watch list by the WBCA on Wednesday.