STORRS, Conn. -- When the University of Connecticut women's basketball team won its 100th consecutive game by beating South Carolina last Feb. 13, Gampel Pavilion was electric.
The buzz around the Huskies trying to win their 100th straight regular season game Tuesday night was minimal, and that's being kind, and it showed.
Central Florida did have something to do with it. The Knights are deliberate and physical. And if they could shoot straight it might have been more interesting than it was. But in every season come games a team has to grind out and UConn did that. Azura Stevens came off the bench for 19 points and 10 rebounds and All-American Gabby Williams provided a second-half spark as the top-ranked Huskies pulled away from UCF for an 80-44 American Athletic Conference victory before a crowd of 5,482 at Gampel Pavilion.
"It would be great if we could call every school and say, 'Hey, this is the way we want you play because this is the fun way to play,' " UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "UCF does whatever they have to do to be successful. They want to try and win the game. I would do the exact same thing. The way they play defensively, the way they play offensively is to shorten the game and limit possessions. I get that. I thought that the first half we didn't handle it. The defense was great the first half. Our defense was great the whole game. The first half offensively ... It took time for some of our players to understand the way this game was going to be played and to embrace the way it would be played. To be a great team you have to be able to win every which way. Once we got that squared away we were good to go."
Joining Stevens in double figures were Kia Nurse (13), Napheesa Collier (12), Katie Lou Samuelson (11), and Crystal Dangerfield (11). Williams had just eight points, but grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out five assists.
But it was the senior forward's steal and her layup off a pass from Dangerfield that brought life to the Huskies on the court, the bench, and the half-filled arena.
"Not everything is going to come easy," Williams said. "We have to learn that before we learn it the hard way. Today was good for us to have a game we didn't win in the first five minutes. It was a good test.
"When you're a senior, it's your turn to take that role. I had guys before me who taught me how to do it. I want people to look to me to be that spark and when they're seniors they can say they have learned it from me."
UConn's last regular season loss was at Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014. The Huskies are 125-1 since, including their NCAA record 111-game winning streak that was snapped by Mississippi State in the 2017 NCAA Final Four semifinals. The Huskies also have the second and third longest regular season runs of 80 (2008-10) and 77 (2001-03).
Williams didn't play during that Stanford game her freshman year, a coach's decision. Now Auriemma could not imagine what they would do without her.
"Gabby Williams single-handedly turned the game around in the second half," Auriemma said. "The game basically came down Gabby turning the game around. Once that started to happen and we started to get into our stuff before they could set their defense up ... The layups, the mid-range, the threes start dropping and it's a completely different game. The biggest difference from the first half to second half was Gabby Williams, plain and simple.
"It wasn't something you draw up. That's what great players do. Great players change the game by making great plays, not by taking something from the playbook and running it."
UConn (14-0 overall, 4-0 AAC) trailed by two early before going in front for good with 14 unanswered points. Nurse got it started with a free throw and field goal and Lou Samuelson followed with back-to-back 3-pointers. A trey by Dangerfield and a Williams steal and hoop made it 18-6 before UCF got on the board on a KK Wright buzzer-beating banker. A three-point play by Stevens gave UConn its biggest lead of the half at 26-10 and it was 32-19 for the Huskies at the break.
It was still competitive at 37-25 when the Huskies got the pace more to their liking. They got the crowd into when Williams intercepted an Aliyah Gregory pass, got the ball ahead to Dangerfield, who returned it to Williams for a layup. A 12-2 run to end the third quarter made it 56-32 and UConn's 71st straight home win was secured.
"She kind of telegraphed the pass and I went up to grab it," Williams said. "I saw Crystal, and me and Crystal have good enough chemistry that she saw me. We just needed a play to get us going."
All five starters played 30 or more minutes. Stevens did her damage in 18 minutes. Auriemma didn't go past his top six until 6:01 remained and Kyla Irwin checked in.
Stevens was 9-for-13 from the floor with three of her misses coming on 3-pointers. The double-double was her fourth of the season.
"My teammates did a good job finding me in spots close to the basket," Stevens said. "If anyone of us has a good night, you have to credit our teammates. We have some of the best players in the country on the offensive end. If someone's hot, they'll get the ball. There's no sense of every man for themselves on this team. It's easy to score points the way we pass the ball."
UConn shot 63.6 percent over the final 20 minutes to finish at 50.0 percent for the game. The Huskies won the battle of the boards 43-30 and had big advantages in points in the paint (44-12) and points off of turnovers (26-5).
Wright led UCF (11-6, 3-1) with 17 points. The Huskies will visit the Knights on Feb. 7 at CFE Arena in Orlando.
UConn is back in action Saturday at Houston (SNY, 3 p.m.). The Cougars are the only other unbeaten team in league play at 3-0 heading into their game Wednesday night against Cincinnati.