HARTFORD, Conn. -- It's not like Azura Stevens hasn't started a game before. The University of Connecticut women's basketball team's redshirt junior forward was on the floor for the opening tip 51 of the 58 games she played in two seasons at Duke before transferring here 18 months ago.
But this is not Duke. And with All-American Katie Lou Samuelson sidelined with a sprained left foot, Stevens is -- what All-American Gabby Williams says -- "the next man up." In Stevens' first start for UConn on Sunday, the Raleigh, North Carolina, native responded.
Stevens finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds -- one of six Huskies in double figures and one of three with double-doubles -- as top-ranked UConn coasted to a 97-72 win over No. 15 Maryland before 10,126 at XL Center.
"Z did well, really well, and I was proud of her," Williams said. "She came in and knew what she was good at. She didn't look afraid. She was ready to go out there and compete.
"It is different here and she'll be the first to tell you that it's different here. She has a lot of good basketball experience which helped. She's with a whole different team and players and in a new role. She stepped into it really well today."
Stevens took over for Samuelson, who did not play after suffering a mid-foot sprain in the second quarter of Friday's win over California. She will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis, though UConn coach Geno Auriemma said she won't play on the Huskies' west-coast trip that begins Tuesday night at No. 8 UCLA (3-0). It was the second game of her career she has missed. The Huntington Beach, California, native sat out the 2016 national championship game with Syracuse after breaking a bone in her left foot two days earlier.
The start was Stevens' first since March 4, 2016, when she had 19 points and 10 rebounds in Duke's loss to Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinals.
"It's still about getting into the flow of the game, and my teammates help me in that they have full confidence in me," Stevens said. "I'm trying to have that confidence in myself that I'm a good player and I'm here for a reason. I can fill in this role.
"I still prepared in the same way, I wanted to be ready when my name was called. It just happened that my name was called to start the game off. I was trying to focus on the things that I need to do to help the team win."
Stevens played 29 minutes, sitting out the final seven with the game decided, and was 7-for-13 from the floor. Eight of her rebounds were on the defensive end, as UConn won the battle of the boards for the first time in three games by a 57-35 margin.
None of it is surprising given she was a two-time all-ACC selection while at Duke. But she came here wanting to be the best that she can be.
"It's more of a mindset with her," Auriemma said. "The mindset a lot of times is, 'I want to be great.' Well, you have to do A, B, C and D. 'Well, can I just do A?' No. 'Can I do A and a little bit of B?' No. So with Azura it's, 'Azura, you have a chance to be all these things that you always wanted to be. But you have to understand how much work it's going to take for you to get there. How much work? Well, think of what you did your first two years and what did that work get you? Now if you want a lot more than that you have to do a lot more than that.
"She's a good shot blocker. She's unbelievably versatile around the basket. There isn't a part of the game that she can't be better than good at. But her mindset right now is, 'I don't know if I can do that.' Every day for me it's. 'Yes you can, yes you can, yes you can.' This is a perfect opportunity for her without Lou. This could be what gets us over the hump until Lou gets back. I can't think of anyone better that we can put in there with Lou out than Z."
While Stevens did her part, the Huskies' other starters also picked up the slack.
Kia Nurse scored 12 of her 21 points in a big first quarter. Willams (15 points, 11 rebounds) and All-American Napheesa Collier (13 points, 11 rebounds) joined Stevens with double-doubles. Freshman Megan Walker came off the bench with 12 points, while Crystal Dangerfield added 10 points and six assists.
"Azura is an element that we didn't have last year," Auriemma said. "That changes some things. Crystal is different than Saniya Chong was. We've got some scorers on our team and we share the ball pretty well. Sometimes we try too hard to share the ball and Gabby was a perfect example of that today."
UConn finished with 25 turnovers, including a career-high 10 by Williams, though it seemed like she created 15 of the Terrapins' 20 turnovers. She was credited with five steals.
"I'm going to remember it," Williams said. "I don't want it to happen again so I'm not going to forget that I had 10 turnovers. It's embarrassing and I can't leave it in the past. I have to figure out why it happened to me and fix it."
The teams exchanged 7-0 runs at the start before the Huskies (3-0) took over. Four players scored four points each in a 19-2 run that made it 26-9. Nurse had only three points in a burst but added on her third and fourth treys of the period in a 26-second span to make it 32-11 after one quarter.
"Kia has always been a good shooter, so that's nothing new," Williams said. "We all have confidence that Kia is going to hit those shots. Now she has an opportunity to hit more, all of our guards do. Everyone just needs to do what they do best."
It was 46-21 at halftime, and after an Ieshia Small basket opened the third-quarter scoring for Maryland, Stevens had six points in a 11-0 spurt that turned it into a rout. The biggest lead was 37 at 78-41 with 9:48 left.
Kaila Charles had 29 points, 12 rebounds and five steals for Maryland (2-2).
"I think we grew as a team," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "We forced 25 turnovers and were able to score 72 points on them. We have some positives for our team to build on. We never quit and we fought to the end."
It's the seventh straight season UConn has beaten Maryland and Sunday's contest was the final game of a three-year deal that started with a game at Madison Square Garden two years ago and continued in College Park, Maryland, last season. Frese said there have been discussions with the Huskies in the future, perhaps in 2019-20.