HARTFORD, Conn. -- For the first time in program history, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team began a season with four 1,000-point scorers.
They didn't do it on their own.
Seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams and juniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson have combined for 5,736 points as Huskies. The foursome tacked on 79 to their total Sunday as No. 1 UConn rolled past Cincinnati 106-65 in American Athletic Conference action before 12,342 at XL Center. They also combined for 23 of the Huskies' 32 assists. Williams reached the 400-assist plateau Sunday, three days after Nurse got there against South Carolina.
"These guys make it really easy for me," Williams said. "They're always in the right spots and they finish a lot of tough shots. They have a good nose for the ball, so playing with a team like this I'm going to get assists. It's a lot of anticipation and reading the defense and seeing what's going to be open before it's open."
UConn has four of the top 15 assist leaders in the AAC with Williams (second, 5.0 per game), Crystal Dangerfield (third, 4.3), Samuelson (13th, 3.4) and Collier (15th, 3.1). Nurse is just outside the top 15 at 2.9 assists per game.
The Huskies lead the nation in scoring (91.3) and moved past Drake on Sunday for the top spot in assists per game at 22.6. Nine of the 11 players who saw action Sunday -- Dangerfield sat out as she deals with shin splints in her left leg -- had at least one assist. Sophomore forward Kyla Irwin chipped in five off the bench.
"Some of it was their defense, but a lot of it was we're a good passing team," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And it's not just our guards. Most times if you look at basketball closely, when the guards have the ball then good things happen. And when they pass the ball to a big guy on the wing or at the high post, the offense dies unless that guy shoots it because they can only make plays for themselves. We spend a lot of time looking for and recruiting wings, post players, that can make a play not just for themselves. It's been like that here for a long, long time. We're fortunate that we have players here like that.
"When you have players that can finish, you try to work really hard at practice at getting players to get them the ball in places where they can finish. The nice thing about our team is we have a lot of guys who are scorers. If your scorers can't pass, then all the other scorers don't have a chance. Every time a scorer catches the ball, they're going to shoot it. Then you don't have a team, just a bunch of guys who want to score. That's a big priority for us, recruit guys who can score and when they're not open or someone else is open, find them. Sometimes it looks great and sometimes it doesn't. Most of the time for us that's where it goes."
UConn also leads the nation in field-goal percentage at 53.3.
And not only do the Huskies pass the ball, they pass it well. They rank second nationally with a 1.75 assist-to-turnover ratio, trailing only Mercer (1.82).
"That is something we really focus on," Collier said. "We work on not getting passes tipped and completing our passes."
Remember when Samuelson came to UConn with the reputation as a shooter? She is second in the AAC in assist-to-turnover (2.85) and is joined in the top 10 by Dangerfield (third, 2.57), Collier (sixth, 1.94) and Williams (seventh, 1.85). Nurse has a 2.13 assist-to-turnover ratio but does not qualify for the league leaders; she is averaging fewer than 3.0 assists per game.
Collier had more turnovers than assists as a freshman, turned that number around during her All-American sophomore year, and has been even better as a junior.
"There are a lot of different things that go into that," Nurse said. "One is experience and the ability to get more repetitions under your belt. And you have to want to do it. For example, Lou came in here and she was a really good shooter. She changed her game to where now not only is she a good shooter but she'll attack you or make great reads and great passes. That's made her a better player and us a better team because of it. It causes other teams to defend more people."
Samuelson's outlet passes that lead to fast-break points may be the most underrated and underappreciated part of her game.
Collier has become more accurate with her passes into the post -- mainly to Azura Stevens -- or kicking the ball out to one of the shooters at the 3-point line.
"I'm more confident with my passes so I'm giving people more looks," Collier said. "Z is really easy to throw to because she is so tall that you can just throw it up there. Obviously it's easier for me to throw it high because I'm taller, too. And Gabby can really jump so she's easy to throw the ball to. When I throw it to a shooter like Kia or Lou, I want to get it right where their hands are so they don't have to move and they get right into their shot."
Of course, what also helps is chemistry.
It was slowed early in the season as Samuelson dealt with a left foot sprain that cost her four games and Dangerfield was still getting comfortable as the team's starting point guard. But even without Dangerfield Sunday, there was no letdown.
"We're learning to play together a lot more," Williams said.
UConn (22-0, 10-0 AAC) had it together against Cincinnati, which is coached by former Huskies player and assistant Jamelle Elliott. The Bearcats (13-10, 5-5) led early at 11-9 before UConn took over. Samuelson had the final eight points of a 21-0 run that put UConn ahead for good as it posted its 74th consecutive home victory.
The Huskies also maintained their two-game lead in the league race over South Florida and Central Florida with six games to go. UConn travels to Orlando to take on UCF on Wednesday at CFE Arena (SNY, 7 p.m.) before returning to Connecticut to start a three-game homestand against Wichita State on Saturday.