Stevens, Collier help No. 1 UConn beat Tulane 91-47

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma watches the action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tulane, in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Geno Auriemma is urging No. 1 UConn to ramp up its defensive pressure as tournament time approaches.

The Huskies heeded their coach’s instructions at Tulane on Wednesday night, which made for a long night for Green Wave ball-handlers and shooters.

Azura Stevens scored 23 points, Napheesa Collier scored 22 and UConn won its 50th straight road game, beating Tulane 91-47.

The Huskies (27-0, 14-0 American) forced 27 Tulane turnovers and converted those into 35 points. UConn also blocked nine shots, with the 6-foot-6 Stevens swatting four.

”We know what our biggest strengths are,” Auriemma said. ”Defensively, it’s hard to score against us. We’re traditionally one of the best defensive teams in the country. But at this time of the year, I think you have to take it up another notch. I think we did that.”

Katie Lou Samuelson had 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for UConn, which led by as many as many as 32 in the first half and built a lead as large as 48 in the final period.

”We know we only have a couple games left in our regular season,” Samuelson said. ”We want to make sure that every single day in practice, every single game, we do something that is positive. … There’s no more step backward for us. We have to keep moving forward.”

Stevens reached 1,300 career points with her sixth point of the game. She hit nine of 12 field goals and all five of her foul shots. Her only misses were from 3-point range.

”Our defense was really good and it helped translate to a lot of our offense,” Stevens said. ”We know what it is we need to do. It’s just a matter of whether we’re going to execute it.”

Kolby Morgan scored 15 points for Tulane (12-15, 4-10), which lost its third straight and fell to 0-9 all-time against UConn.

Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said if not for her squad’s turnovers, ”it certainly would have been a lot better game.”

”It’s tough. Connecticut’s long and they’re athletic,” Stockton added. ”They’re so good at turning turnovers into points, I told our team I’d rather you throw it into the stands than turn the ball over on the court.”

Tulane scored first on Morgan’s 3-pointer – the Green Wave’s first shot of the game – but that was hardly an omen of things to come. UConn responded with a 28-4 run during the rest of the first quarter, during which the Green Wave turned the ball over 12 times, leading to 17 Huskies points.

Collier scored 11 points in the first seven minutes.

”She’s a machine,” Auriemma said. ”The nights she doesn’t score is because doesn’t touch it enough or for some reason isn’t aggressive enough.”

Collier said she was ”definitely trying to be more aggressive.”

Kia Nurse, who scored all 13 of her points in the first half, also helped the Huskies pull out to a large early lead.

The Huskies took their first lead of 30 or more when Crystal Dangerfield’s 3 made it 39-8 with 6:13 still remaining in the second quarter.

Gabby Williams finished with 10 points for UConn.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: When they played at Tulane last season, the Huskies had to sweat out a 63-60 victory, preserving what was at the time a 101-game winning streak that eventually ended at 111. UConn appeared mindful of that too-close-for-comfort result this time around in a victory that never appeared in doubt. The Huskies have now won 154 straight against unranked opponents, including 117 straight against such competition on the road.

Tulane: After a shaky opening period, Tulane put forth a feisty effort for its home crowd, but still was hard-pressed to stay within 50. That only further demonstrated the gulf in talent between these teams in the same conference.

CAMPAIGNING

With the regular season winding down, Auriemma seized on a chance to tout Samuelson’s candidacy for player of the year.

”Who’s the best player in the country? Well, maybe the best player on the best team. That’s always a pretty good place to start,” Auriemma said. ”I don’t know that anybody’s had a better year than Lou and does more for their team. Name me a player in America today that’s as good a shooter as Lou, as good a passer as Lou, as good a ball-handler as Lou, as smart as Lou. … I don’t know one that has all those things and makes her teammates better.”

UP NEXT

UConn: Visits SMU on Saturday.

Tulane: Visits Wichita State on Saturday.