LOS ANGELES — Without injured Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn is finding out who else can step up for the top-ranked Huskies.
Napheesa Collier scored 23 points and freshman Megan Walker had her best game yet with 13 points in a 78-60 rout of No. 5 UCLA on Tuesday night that snapped the Bruins’ 32-game home winning streak.
“That’s the biggest thing that came out of this game,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said. “We got Pheesa going without Lou.”
Crystal Dangerfield added 17 points for the Huskies (4-0), who won their 39th consecutive road game in their first visit to Westwood since 1998.
“We grew up as a team a little bit,” Auriemma said.
The Bruins (3-1) fell to 0-17 against top-ranked teams and are winless in five meetings against UConn, which beat UCLA in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 last season.
“We’re a good basketball team but there’s no margin for error against a great basketball team,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “They executed their game plan the entire time and we couldn’t respond.”
Jordin Canada and Monique Billings scored 15 points each for the Bruins. Kennedy Burke added 14 points.
The Huskies pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring UCLA 22-9, including 16 in a row, to take a 62-38 lead. Collier scored six straight and Dangerfield added five.
UConn’s run continued in the fourth when the Huskies scored the first four points, extending their lead to 66-38.
A 3-pointer by Canada was UCLA’s first basket since 5 minutes into the third quarter. UCLA outscored UConn 22-16 in the fourth, but the Bruins couldn’t shoot from long-range when the Huskies dared them, going 6 of 26 on 3-pointers.
“We were stuck with really hard shots,” Close said.
UConn led by 10 in the first quarter only to see the Bruins cut it to five points on a basket by Billings in the second. The crowd of 9,263, which filled the lower bowl at Pauley Pavilion, was in full voice with the Bruins playing pesky defense and point guard Canada darting and weaving to the basket against the bigger Huskies.
“It was exciting to be in that atmosphere,” Canada said. “When you play against the best, that’s what you’re going to get.”
Walker coolly responded with three 3-pointers in a row and Dangerfield capped the scoring with another trey that left the Huskies leading 40-29 at halftime after shooting 60 percent from the field.
Postgame press conference with Megan Walker, Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams. pic.twitter.com/r35NDMUNMX— UConn Women's Hoops (@UConnWBB) November 22, 2017
Walker had been struggling in practice after joining the program as the nation’s top recruit.
“Today we found another player who can help us,” Auriemma said. “Toughest game in the toughest environment and she played her best game.”
The Bruins’ home winning streak was the second-longest active run in the nation behind UConn’s 68 in a row.
No Katie Lou
The Huskies played their second straight game without preseason All-American Samuelson, who has a sprained left foot. The injury spoiled what would have been a homecoming game for the junior guard, who is from Huntington Beach and had her parents in the stands. She broke the same foot in the 2016 national semifinals. Wearing a boot, Samuelson was up and down shouting encouragement. She is not using crutches anymore.
“She was very much in the game without physically being there,” Gabby Williams said. “We could hear her on the bench.”
Dangerfield, Kia Nurse and Collier played all 40 minutes for UConn.
“Those three were just incredible,” Auriemma said.
Kobe in the house
Retired Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sat courtside with wife Vanessa and his two oldest daughters Natalia and Gianna. He also supports women’s basketball through his occasional attendance at Los Angeles Sparks games.
“Who?” Williams joked before adding, “We like Kobe.”
Bryant visited the UConn players in their locker room.
UConn beat its third Pac-12 opponent in four games by an average of 26 points, proving the Huskies can dominate both sides of the country.
UCLA has achieved its highest ranking since the Bruins were also fifth on Nov. 29, 1999. They moved up three spots this week on the strength of a victory over then-No. 3 Baylor.
“We’re there, but we’re not there yet,” Canada said. “It teaches us what excellence is and that’s UConn.”
UConn heads to Oregon to play Michigan State in the PK80 Invitational on Saturday before wrapping up its West Coast trip at Nevada on Tuesday.
After four straight home games to open the season, UCLA travels to Las Vegas to play Kansas State and Creighton in the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout on Friday and Saturday.