COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Gabby Williams was looking forward to returning to Colonial Life Arena.
Having played here two years ago as a sophomore, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's senior All-American was confident she and her fellow upperclassmen with experience here could handle anything reigning national champion South Carolina and a sellout crowd of 18,000 could throw at them.
It proved to be even easier than she imagined.
The four players who took the court for the Huskies here in 2016 -- Williams, senior Kia Nurse, and junior All-Americans Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier -- combined for 76 points Thursday night as No. 1 UConn routed seventh-ranked South Carolina 83-58 in a non-league game not as close as the final score.
"I think we really showed maturity tonight," Williams said. "Their fans are not easy. But we know how to play in this atmosphere. We know how to play against teams like this. We did a good job of leading and showing the younger guys so in two years when they're playing here again they'll know how to handle it.
"We were having a lot of fun out there. After I would make a play, or Lou would make a play, or Kia would make a play ... It wasn't just one person, one thing, that set us off. It was a combination and everyone contributed. That's fun."
Nurse led the way with 23 points and hit her first four 3-pointers when the game was being decided. Samuelson added 20 points and eight rebounds while playing 38 minutes. Collier contributed 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, five blocked shots, and two steals. And Williams was Williams for the second straight year against the Gamecocks, finishing with 14 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists in 28 minutes.
"The guys I expected to play great, played great," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "The guys I expected to shoot the ball well, shot the ball well. That's kind of who we are right now. It doesn't mean anything in March but tonight it meant a lot. It was fun to watch. I enjoyed it."
Nurse and Williams set the tone early as the Huskies (21-0) took their first double-figure lead with just 4:50 gone and led by double figures after the opening basket of the second quarter by Azura Stevens.
It was exactly what seniors are supposed to do, but Auriemma admitted he had been seeing something else from them recently.
"I've been given them a hard time lately because sometimes they act like something other than seniors," Auriemma said. "It would upset me and I would tell them. When you get to be a senior at Connecticut you're supposed to be beyond reproach. I should never have to say anything. I have my hands full with the freshmen and some of the younger guys. So there were a lot of things about those guys I was harping on every day.
"I've got to tell you, those two when they play like they did tonight, it's really, really hard to beat us. When they play like seniors it's hard to beat us."
After spotting South Carolina (18-4) the first basket, UConn went on a 13-2 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers by Nurse and a trey from Samuelson. It was 24-16 after one quarter.
The Huskies then broke it open.
"We moved the ball, executed the offense, and found people where they could be the most successful, whether from the outside or inside," Nurse said.
Baskets by Stevens and Samuelson followed by a Collier layup off a pass from Samuelson opened the second-quarter scoring. Two free throws by Williams, a 3 by Collier and a Samuelson hoop pushed the lead to 21. Bianca Jackson scored for South Carolina, but UConn responded with a basket by Williams, two baskets by Samuelson, and two free throws by Collier. When Nurse hit consecutive threes to make it 51-23 with 1:51 left in the half, Gamecocks' coach Dawn Staley, who will be coaching the United States national team in the 2018 FIBA world championships and 2020 Olympics, finally called her first time out.
The silence of most of the 18,000 -- UConn fans could be heard, though, was deafening.
"As fun as it is playing in Gampel, there's something about playing against the crowd," Samuelson said.
It was 53-24 at the break. The Huskies lead reached 33 before South Carolina showed its only sign of life with a 12-0 run. But Samuelson hit a 3 to get the Huskies back on track and the Gamecocks got no closer than 24. The biggest lead was 34.
The Huskies have won a NCAA record 48 consecutive road games.
"We wanted to make it a full-court game and not pass up any open shots," Auriemma said. "We're one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country so if they were open we were going to take them. I trust my guys. They know the difference between a good shot and a great shot. Once a couple of them went in ...
"When you play on the road against a really good team and this kind of crowd, the last thing you want is to play against the crowd and the other team. Fortunately, we only had to play against South Carolina tonight."
Bianca Jackson had 20 points for the Gamecocks. All-American A'ja Wilson had 14 points, 16 rebounds, and six blocked shots, but was just 4-for-18 from the floor.
UConn is 4-5 when playing the reigning national champion and 1-1 on the road. The only other time the Huskies played at the reigning champs was in 1998 when Tennessee beat them 84-69 before a crowd of 24,597 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Thursday night's contest was the second of a four-game deal between UConn and South Carolina. The Gamecocks will visit Connecticut next year with the Huskies returning to Colonial Life Arena during the 2019-20 season. UConn leads the series with South Carolina 6-0.
The Huskies return to American Athletic Conference action Sunday when they face coach Jamelle Elliott and Cincinnati at the XL Center (SNY, 1:30 p.m.).