STORRS, Conn. -- When it comes to dealing with the three referees, Geno Auriemma does the talking for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
The Hall of Fame coach had no issues with Dee Kantner, Bryan Enterline, and Kevin Pethtel following No. 1 UConn's 80-44 American Athletic Conference win over Central Florida at Gampel Pavilion Tuesday night. Instead, he saved his best sarcasm for his players, who did not deal with UCF's physical style well.
"The first half offensively we had a chip on our shoulder toward the officials," Auriemma said. "Our players didn't think the officials did a good enough job of helping the UConn players look really, really good. I think some players on our team think it is the officials' job to help them be really good.
"As you noticed in the first half, we're incapable of making a bucket when somebody touches us. We're incapable of making a layup if there happens to be anyone else in the lane with us. I'm sending out word to the supervisor of officials to have them tell the officials that they didn't get the memo. According to my players, a couple of them, their job is to make sure the UConn players are not defended, nobody gets in their way, nobody tries to block their shots and if they do the officials are supposed to tell them that is not allowed."
With a 32-19 lead, UConn did not return to the court from the 15-minute halftime break until 20 seconds remained on the clock. It didn't matter as the Huskies shot 63.3 percent over the final 20 minutes to get to 50.0 percent for the game.
Auriemma's message was straightforward.
"We can't go out there and be a bunch of girls," UConn guard Crystal Dangerfield said. "We can't be whining if a call is missed or anything like that. We have to go out there and play. We have to play harder and smarter. When a team is that aggressive, you have more areas to beat them, but we weren't playing to those strengths. We were playing kind of the way they wanted us to play.
"If somebody says 'Boo!' on a layup we were kind of missing them. We were barely being touched and we were looking for fouls to be bailed out. We have to be the ones to initiate contact and go through and finish."
UConn lost its lead nationally in scoring offense as it dropped behind Baylor at 90.5 points per game, but remained on top in field-goal percentage (53.1).
STEVENS GETS OFFENSIVE
The Huskies' five starters played between 30 and 35 minutes Tuesday night. But the most productive player on the offensive end was reserve Azura Stevens, who notched a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes.
"I'm getting more comfortable playing with that starting group," Stevens said. "I think I'm coming out attacking and getting myself involved as quickly as I can by getting offensive boards, defensive boards to kind of insert myself into the game when I get in the first couple of minutes."
Stevens was 9-for-13 shooting with three of her misses coming on 3-pointers. Overall, she is shooting 57.9 percent from the floor but that breaks down to 70.5 percent inside the arc and 15.2 percent (5-for-33) behind the arc. For the season, she is averaging 14.0 points, a team leading 8.9 rebounds and a team and AAC-high 2.1 blocked shots.
But she missed at least two defensive switches that Auriemma called her out on while on the sidelines. Then he continued a theme that if Stevens wants to be the best she can be, she needs to be a better defender.
"Azura is a lot like a lot of players who are pretty gifted," Auriemma said. "Azura plays both ends of the floor really, really well. In the first half she plays our offensive end really well and in the second half she plays the other end of the floor where we're on offense really well. So she has both ends covered. All the things Azura does on the offensive end that are so great, which is everything, we have the only 6-foot-6 kid that is not guardable in college basketball, and the only 6-6 kid that can't guard."
Stevens knows there is work to be done.
"There were a few plays where I overran it and made a stupid mistake and they were wide open underneath," she said. "Recognizing my role when I get into the game is to protect the rim and just stay down low.
"I'm just trying to find balance like Coach said to have a good night on both ends of the floor, a complete overall game. I think he thinks I can do it [defensively], too, but I just haven't done it consistently. He knows my potential as a player on both offense and defense. I take what he says and I try to do it as much as I can. I think it's just a matter of finding that balance and really focusing on getting better on the defensive end."
UConn recorded its 100th straight regular season win Tuesday night. The Huskies' last regular season loss was at Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014. They are 125-1 since, including their NCAA record 111-game winning streak that was snapped by Mississippi State in the 2017 NCAA Final Four semifinals. The Huskies also have the second and third-longest regular season runs of 80 (2008-10) and 77 (2001-03).
Vermont holds the longest non-UConn regular season streak at 53. The Huskies ended that run with a 96-66 win at Gampel Pavilion on Nov. 30, 1993.
The Huskies improved to 60-0 against teams that have one of Auriemma's former players or assistant coaches on their staff. Nykesha Sales, a two-time All-American who graduated as UConn's all-time leader in points and steals in 1998, is in her second season as a UCF assistant. Auriemma and Sales spoke before and after the game.
"She reminded me of the days when I used to be a really good coach when I could actually get guys to do exactly what I wanted them to do," Auriemma said. "If they didn't do it, I just screamed at them for 40 minutes until they did. Those days are over, obviously."
Sales' 2,178 points are still tied for fourth at UConn as she trails Maya Moore (3,036), Breanna Stewart (2,676), and Tina Charles (2,346) and is even with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. The Bloomfield, Connecticut native's 46 points against Stanford on Dec. 21, 1997, is still the single-game record. Her record of 447 steals is still 94 more than anyone else. Moriah Jefferson is second at 353.
Auriemma said again there was no update on the status of freshman guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter, who missed her fifth consecutive game while dealing with personal issues. "We're going to try and get a resolution to this in the next day or so," he said. ... Three-time national champion Caroline Doty took in the game. She was in the state to get surgery on her left knee. Also at the game and sitting behind the UConn bench were Stewart's parents Brian and Heather. Stewart is playing in China during the WNBA offseason ... The Huskies took Wednesday off from practice. They visit the only other team unbeaten team in AAC play, Houston, on Saturday (SNY, 3 p.m.).