What figured to be little more than a side trip to Memphis for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team turned somewhat interesting Saturday.
It wasn't about the result. Kia Nurse had 18 points and Saniya Chong came off the bench to score 17 and sparked a first-half charge as the second-ranked Huskies defeated Memphis 80-34 in American Athletic Conference action at FedExForum.
But it was about the journey. After UConn's third consecutive slow start, coach Geno Auriemma benched All-American Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck -- his two leading scorers -- at the first media time out with 4:45 gone. They did not return.
"I don't think it was just today," Auriemma said during his press conference shown on SNY. "The Temple game was the same way and so was the Cincinnati game. The expectation level that we have as coaches for our upperclassmen is a little more than what I've seen recently."
Stewart, playing in her 99th career game, had seen single-figure minutes in only one other game -- against Baylor on Feb. 18, 2013, when she went scoreless in seven minutes. It was the fewest minutes for Tuck since she played three against Syracuse on March 11, 2013.
Kiah Stokes did not see action in the second half after playing eight minutes in the first.
"I don't give a damn if you're the national Player of the Year or the greatest thing that ever walked the face of the earth playing basketball. There's a certain level of play that I've been accustomed to at Connecticut, and if you're not there then you're not playing," Auriemma said. "I'm not going to have one standard of play for T (walk-on Tierney Lawlor) and have a different one for Stewie. It doesn't work that way. I never had to say that to Maya Moore, or Kelly Faris, or Stefanie Dolson, or Bria Hartley. I never had to do it. So you either live up to the standards that have been set here at Connecticut or you don't play.
"If I came out and I didn't feel like practicing or didn't feel like coaching, if I did that enough times I'm going to get fired. That's the world we live in. So they better grow up."
The Huskies (22-1 overall, 12-0 AAC) will take a 21-game winning streak into Monday night's showdown with No. 1 South Carolina at sold-out Gampel Pavilion. UConn is 16-3 in matchups involving the top two teams in the Associated Press poll.
"I coach for today, and I expected it to go a little better than it did the first 15 minutes," Auriemma said.
Memphis (11-12, 5-7) led 12-10 before two Nurse free throws tied it. Chong then scored the next 12 UConn points and her second straight 3-pointer made it 24-14. It was 28-16 at the break.
Auriemma then used a six-player rotation of Chong, Nurse, Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Gabby Williams, and Courtney Ekmark in the second half until Lawlor entered with 3:58 left.
"I thought that other group was great," Auriemma said. "I thought that they played great. I thought they played above their heads and they played hard. They helped each other. They competed. K worked harder on the boards than those other three guys.
"We had the team out there that could best help us win. I enjoyed coaching them."
Chong opened the second half with a trey and a hoop by Jefferson, two free throws by Williams, and a jumper by Nurse made it a 21-point lead. After a 3-pointer by Memphis' Mooriah Rowser, Williams scored six unanswered points to put it far out of reach at 43-19.
"The thing with Saniya is when you give her a lot of minutes she tends to give you a lot back," Auriemma said. "The problem is for her to get a lot minutes, those first five minutes she has to look like she wants to play 25 minutes. The more Saniya looks like she wants to play and contribute, the more minutes she's going to get. When she gets her confidence going she's really, really good. And today she was great."
Williams recorded her second straight double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Mosqueda-Lewis had 11 points and nine rebounds while Jefferson had 10 points to make it five Huskies in double figures.
The win moves Auriemma into fifth place alone on the all-time wins list with 901, breaking a tie with ex-Texas coach Jody Conradt.
Ariel Hearn led Memphis with 13 points. The Tigers were without starting point guard Breigha Wilder-Cochran, who suffered a concussion against Temple last Wednesday.