UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- As the starters for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team made their way onto the floor at Mohegan Sun Arena for the opening tip Sunday, senior Kiah Stokes rounded up the reserves.
"The starting five has their little huddle and we on the bench have a huddle," Stokes said. "I said, 'Listen guys, I know we're all thinking about going home. But that's tomorrow and after the game. We have to stay focused.' Once you're playing, though, you're not thinking about going home. You want to get this rebound, you want to get this block, you want to finish this shot, you want to win."
Certainly the starters -- led by All-American Breanna Stewart and freshman Kia Nurse -- did their parts. But the play of the UConn bench played a big role as the second-ranked Huskies headed home for Christmas after walloping UCLA 86-50 before a crowd of 8,015 in the Hall of Fame Women's Challenge.
Reserves Gabby Williams (12 points, 7 rebounds) Stokes (10 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocked shots), and Saniya Chong (8 points) provided a spark and helped turn a somewhat competitive game into a blowout.
UConn (8-1) has won seven straight.
"If you look at Kiah Stokes and Gabby Williams as one position, both of them played 16 minutes today," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Is that ideal for both of them? I don't know. What was good was they had 17 rebounds and 22 points and if that was one person it would be a helluva game. Combine that with Saniya starting to look a little more comfortable offensively today ... We have three kids coming off the bench and I would like to see all three of them play as well as they did tonight every night. That would be huge."
Stewart finished with a game high of 22 points while adding five blocked shots. Nurse had 11 points and six assists. Morgan Tuck chipped in 10 points and six rebounds.
The Huskies started slowly, missing six of their first seven shots leading up to the first media time out. But Nurse (7) and Stewart (6) combined for all the points in a 13-0 run that put UConn ahead 15-4.
"We talked about it," Nurse said. "We said to have to get loose balls, we have to run, we have to do what we do best. We came out of the time out with more intensity on defense and we locked down some people and it translated to offense.
"You have to keep a mindset that you're here and in the moment. Obviously going home is exciting for all of us but we did a good job of staying in the moment."
UCLA, playing its third game in four days after arriving from New Orleans Saturday, pulled back within 24-18 before the Huskies went on another run to build a working margin.
Williams got it started with a pair of baskets and a Tuck hoop made it 30-20. Jordin Canada scored for the Bruins but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Chong nailed 3-pointers and baskets by Tuck and Stewart allowed UConn to double up UCLA at 40-20.
It was 40-25 and the Bruins (4-6) got within 13 on seven points by Canada. But Moriah Jefferson's steal and layup with 12:14 left capped a 13-2 run that gave the Huskies an insurmountable 63-39 advantage.
"I'm starting to find out what I'm good at," Williams said, "and Coach has been emphasizing that in practice, 'Do what you're good at and be a star in that role.' I'm trying to focus on the things that I know I can do."
Stokes got her sixth career double-double by grabbing an offensive rebound with 1:01 to go.
"My dad just called me before the game," Stokes said of her father, Greg, the former NBA player and University of Iowa star. "He said, 'You know what? I've made my Christmas list but I don't want that anymore. I just want a double-double. Can you do that for me?' I told him that I would try. I'm glad I ended up getting it."
Kari Korver led UCLA with 14 points while Canada added 12. The Huskies held Bruins' leading scorer Nirra Fields -- Nurse's teammate on Team Canada at the 2014 FIBA world championships -- to five points on 2-for-10 shooting.
UCLA began the season in the Associated Press Top 25 but dropped its first four games. The Bruins are 0-4 against ranked opponents.
"I just told our team that there are two words that they need to go home with," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "Humility, they got humbled today and this whole preseason schedule has humbled us some. And then hope. We had some positive moments. I think we showed some glimpses of what we can grow into, but we have a long way to go.
"We have to respect UConn. They get everyone's best every night and they just go to work. We told our team that they see the shine of what Connecticut has accomplished but what they don't see is the grind that it takes to get there. All we need to do is grind."
It doesn't get easier for the Bruins, who host No. 5 Notre Dame next Sunday.
On deck for UConn -- after Christmas -- is its American Athletic Conference opener against SMU Saturday at the XL Center in Hartford (1 p.m., SNY).
"When we're good, we're good. When we're not, we're something else," Auriemma said. "We're probably where we should be. We've gotten better in the last month. But we found out today that we need to get a lot better."