Coach Geno Auriemma didn't need a history lesson to make sure he didn't get too excited about his University of Connecticut women's basketball team's first win Monday.
"It's only one game so let's not get too far ahead of ourselves," Auriemma said. "There's a long way to go but we're off to a good start."
The top-ranked and defending national champion Huskies, with two first-team All-Americans back in their starting lineup, opened their season with a convincing win over a top 10 opponent.
That was the story of the Huskies' 100-56 rout of No. 7 Ohio State at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio, Monday. But the same paragraph could have been written 15 years ago. On Nov. 12, 2000, at the Hartford Civic Center, No. 1 UConn whipped third-ranked Georgia 99-70. Not only did those Huskies return All-Americans Shea Ralph and Svetlana Abrosimova, they had two future Olympic gold medalists in Sue Bird and Swin Cash as starters and two more future Olympic gold medalists in Asjha Jones and Diana Taurasi coming off the bench.
"That was at home," Auriemma said. "I didn't think of this that way. Hopefully, this isn't … "
The Hall of Fame coach didn't need the reminder that the 2001 Huskies lost at Notre Dame in January, then lost Abrosimova and Ralph to injuries, then lost a 15-point second-half lead against the Irish in the Final Four semifinals in St. Louis that ended their bid for a second straight title.
There were too many positives that came out of Monday - the first time UConn opened with a top 10 foe since that Georgia game - for him to want to think about anything negative.
"My biggest concern was I didn't know how the freshmen (Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson) would play because we took two seniors out of our lineup from last year and replaced them with two freshmen and Gabby Williams," Auriemma said. "I knew our four returning starters would play well. The freshmen? Napheesa was good. Lou is a little bit under the weather. And Gabby was fabulous. She's unbelievable with the stuff she can do."
Senior All-Americans Breanna Stewart (24) and Moriah Jefferson (21) combined for 45 points and fellow returning starters Kia Nurse (16) and Morgan Tuck (15) joined them in double figures. Williams, in her first career start, had a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with four assists and four steals. Collier had eight points, five rebounds, and three steals in her debut.
Shayla Cooper was the only player for Ohio State (0-2) in double figures with 17 while Kelsey Mitchell, the nation's leading scorer a season ago as a freshman, settled for eight points and didn't reach double figures for the first time in her career. She picked up two first-quarter fouls and finished 2-for-14 from the floor.
UConn quieted the crowd of 11,435 at the start by scoring the first seven points. It was 24-15 after one quarter. Cooper scored to open the second quarter but UConn broke it open as six players contributed to a 25-4 run. It was 50-24 at halftime and Ohio State got no closer than 24 the rest of the way. Tierney Lawlor's baseline jumper with 11 seconds left got UConn to 100.
"We wanted it to be a track meet but we wanted to control it," said Williams, the former high jump standout from the 2012 Olympic trials.
UConn's defense was dominant, it also made it a point to go at the Buckeyes' defense with strong drives to the hoop. The Huskies shot 29 free throws compared to Ohio State's nine.
On the other side, UConn had only 16 assists on 37 baskets (43.2 percent) Monday. Last year, 61.1 percent of its field goals had assists attached.
"Sometimes we pass the ball too much and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Sometimes we just need someone to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket," Auriemma said. "We're doing more of that this year. Kia Nurse is good at that and Moriah has become really good at that. The way our offense is structured she has opportunities to do that almost every time down the floor. For somebody that's not that big, she really finishes around the basket. You can't keep her in front of you."
Monday's game was the first of two between the Huskies and Buckeyes and the first not played at a neutral site. Ohio State will travel to Connecticut next year. Of course, the Huskies would like to return here in 2018 when the city hosts the NCAA Final Four downtown at Nationwide Arena.
But Auriemma has known Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff since he was an assistant to Muffet McGraw with the 2001 national championship team at Notre Dame. So maybe it's something they can continue.
"I've followed Kevin's career and he's one of the best coaches in the country," Auriemma said. "I knew once he got the Ohio State job and I said, 'Let's play.' He wasn't going to go, 'No, we're not doing it.' He's a competitive guy and that's how you build your program. We talked before the game and I told him, 'Kevin, there are no losers tonight.' That's because his fans are going to see his team beat one of the best teams in the country, or they'll see one of the best teams in the country and they'll think, 'Yeah, that's what Kevin wants to do here.'
"Once they get this thing rolling with this atmosphere, it's going to be lights out. And he's not afraid. A lot of coaches in women's basketball, they don't see the big picture sometimes and Kevin sees the big picture."
The Huskies play their home opener against Kansas State this Monday (7 p.m., SNY) at the XL Center in Hartford.