COLUMBUS, Ohio - Geno Auriemma said on his radio show last week that the first to 100 points would win the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's regular season opener against Ohio State.
The Hall of Fame coach, as usual, was right. But the triple-figure performance offensively took second fiddle to the Huskies' defensive effort.
Top-ranked UConn placed all five starters in double figures Monday, led by All-American Breanna Stewart's 24 points, while taking the Buckeyes completely out of their offense en route to a 100-56 rout of No. 7 Ohio State before 11,435 at Value City Arena.
"It wasn't about just setting the tone for this game, it was about setting the tone for this season," said UConn forward Gabby Williams, who finished with a double-double. "Everyone is watching us right now so we wanted to give them a show."
Williams, in her first career start, helped that set that tone with a pair of early steals as UConn led wire to wire.
But it was also the work of guards Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse that blanketed their Ohio State counterparts Kelsey Mitchell, the nation's leading scorer a season ago, and Ameryst Alston. The Buckeyes' backcourt combined for 59 points in a loss at No. 2 South Carolina Friday night. On Monday, they totaled 15 points on a combined 5-for-27 performance from the floor.
"When you play a team with the ability to break you down one-on-one like Ohio State does, you have to commit yourself to playing great defense and you have to play the whole 30-second shot clock, you can't play for just 15," Auriemma said. "I thought that we were amazing on defense. That whole first half I thought we were great. Gabby Williams and Moriah Jefferson set the tone early on. They might have made it look easy but it wasn't easy. It's not easy guarding those guys. I'm really happy for them and proud of them.
"They got the message. They respect everyone, pretty much. They knew those two could score a lot of points. Kelsey Mitchell getting those two fouls put a damper on her game. But people ask me all the time, 'How do you stop a great offensive player?' You don't. You try to get them in foul trouble."
Joining Stewart in double figures were Jefferson (21), Nurse (16), Morgan Tuck (15), and Williams (10). Williams also had a game high 11 rebounds along with four assists and four steals. Stewart also had four blocked shots and she and Tuck missed double-doubles by one rebound.
"We knew their guards were going to be aggressive on offense so we had to be the same way towards them," Jefferson said.
UConn quieted the crowd at the start by scoring the first seven points and forcing Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff to call time out with 1:49 gone.
Shayla Cooper, who was 2-for-17 from the floor at South Carolina, came alive with nine points and pulled the Buckeyes to within 14-13. But Jefferson had six points in a 10-2 run to give the Huskies a 24-15 lead after the first quarter.
"We came out and were the aggressor," Williams said. "We forced them to play our pace. They're a real good team in transition and we kept them to two fast-break points. We had a goal and did it."
After Cooper scored again to open the second quarter, UConn broke it open as six players scored in a 17-1 spurt that was capped off by a Stewart three-point play. Then after Alston scored the first field goal for the Ohio State backcourt, the Huskies ripped off the next eight points including back-to-back 3-pointers by Jefferson and Nurse.
It was 50-24 at halftime and the Buckeyes got no closer than 24 the rest of the way. Tierney Lawlor's baseline jumper with 11 seconds left got UConn to 100.
"We were motivated this week and we knew what we wanted to do," Stewart said. "We wanted to make them uncomfortable and take tough shots. That's what happened. As a unit, we had each other's back."
Cooper had 17 points for the Buckeyes, who lost their home opener for the first time since 1998. Ohio State is 2-16 against Associated Press No. 1 teams, including 0-3 against UConn, with both victories coming in the 1987-88 season.
"We got our butts kicked," McGuff said. "They're a great team. They coached better, they played better, they deserved to win by the margin that they did. The good news for us is that it's only two games in and there's a lot of the season left."
The Buckeyes will play the return game of this two-year agreement between the schools in Connecticut next season.
On deck for the Huskies is Kansas State next Monday night at the XL Center in Hartford. What will they do for an encore?
"Our practices have been really good," Auriemma said. "Ever since we started we haven't had a situation where we're begging them to do certain things. We say this is what we're going to do, and they do it. And they do it pretty much to the best of their ability. There's no one rolling their eyes and making faces. They just do it and do it every day."