Butler puts up valiant effort on senior night versus UConn

Senior guard Genesis Parker starts her drive to the basket in the second quarter of Butler’s game versus No. 1 UConn on Feb. 27. Parker scored 18 points in the loss. Photo by Xan Korman.

HENRY BREDEMEIER | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR | hbredeme@butler.edu

The Butler women’s basketball lost to No. 1 UConn by a final score of 97-68. This was the Huskies first-ever trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse and only the second meeting between the two programs. Senior guard Genesis Parker led Butler with 18 points and four 3-pointers, and junior forward Okako Adika added 14 points. Freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards led UConn with 24 points and 14 rebounds, and freshman guard Paige Bueckers added 20 points and 14 assists.

Before the game, four seniors Jaia Alexander, Upe Atosu, Genesis Parker and Micah Sheetz were recognized on senior night in their last game at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Although, with the NCAA’s ruling that this season would not count against eligibility, all four players will have the option to return next season if they choose.

Head coach Kurt Godlevske said that he was happy to see these seniors get recognized for their careers.

“This group has been a part of a real culture change within our program,” Godlevske said. “I couldn’t be more proud of that group. You know, the group that I had two years ago I was awfully close with, but this group, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot more guidance with, so that’s made us I think even a little bit closer.”

Despite the large disparity between these two teams’ records, the Bulldogs and the Huskies looked like equals through the first 16 minutes of the game. In the first half, seven different Bulldogs hit at least one 3-pointer, and three — Diew, Sheetz and Adika — hit two threes.

UConn started the game with two layups to take an early 4-0 lead, and Adika hit her first three of the game to open up the scoring for Butler.

The Huskies went on a 7-0 run over the next minute and a half, with all three buckets assisted by freshman phenom Paige Bueckers. Down 11-3 early, it looked like the Bulldogs might be in for a long night.

But, instead of rolling over, Butler went on a run of their own. First Genesis Parker hit a three, and following an Atosu steal, Adika converted an and-one. UConn’s Evina Westbrook hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, again assisted by Bueckers, but forward Ellen Ross and Sheetz hit back-to-back threes to give Butler the 15-14 lead over the No. 1 team in the country. 

Westbrook scored again, but Adika hit right back with a short jumper of her own, to give Butler the lead with 2:45 left to play in the first. On the Huskies next possession, Bueckers hit a three, her first points of the game, to spark a 9-0 run. Diew, an AAU teammate of Bueckers, hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to cut the lead at the end of the first to 25-20. 

To begin the second quarter, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma employed a full-court press, a sign that he was not happy with the rate at which Butler was scoring. Despite this defensive change, Butler was still able to do damage on the Huskies. Through the first six minutes of the second quarter, the Bulldogs hit four more threes and outscored UConn 12-7. 

Atosu opened up the scoring with a three on Butler’s first possession, and Bueckers scored and assisted two straight buckets for the Huskies to go up 29-23. Diew then hit her second three of the day, and redshirt-freshman point guard Tenley Dowell tied it at 29 with a three of her own. Dowell was the seventh different player to hit a three in the first 15 minutes of the game.

UConn took the lead on the next possession and a minute later, hit a three to take a five point lead. Adika hit a 3-pointer to make it 34-32 with about three and a half to play in the half. This is the closest the game would be for the remainder of the game. UConn went on a 19-7 run to end the half, with Sheetz scoring six of Butler’s points over that stretch off of an and-one and a 3-pointer. Bueckers capped off the half with a three with eight seconds left to give the Huskies a 53-39 lead at halftime.

Butler showed they are a vastly different team than when these teams met earlier this year. The Bulldogs scored more points in the first half than they did in the entire game at UConn. Only three Butler players scored in the last matchup, and seven players scored in the first half of this game. Although they were still down double digits at halftime, Butler showed massive improvement from earlier this season. 

The Huskies started to run away with the game in the second half, although Butler still was able to score on the excellent UConn defense. Genesis Parker hit a 3-pointer six seconds into the third quarter and another with nine seconds remaining in the period, but the Huskies dominated the middle nine minutes and 40 seconds, outscoring the Bulldogs 23-8.

With the game virtually wrapped up heading into the fourth quarter, Butler still put up a valiant effort versus UConn’s starters, who stayed in the game through the final seconds. UConn outscored Butler 21-15 in the final frame, to finalize the score at 97-68. Butler’s 68 points is the most points the Huskies have let up in Big East play.

The clear difference between these two teams is the presence in the paint. UConn’s two bigs, 6’5” forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa and 6’3” Edwards, wreaked havoc on Butler in the paint. Edwards grabbed eight offensive boards and the team grabbed 16. UConn outscored Butler 48-12 in the paint and blocked seven shots. Godlevske said he was generally satisfied with the Bulldogs performance down low, given how good UConn’s bigs are. 

“Their length and size is a difficult thing to deal with,” Godlevske said. “But I thought Nyamer and Ellen and Okako and Tenley and Micah really battled. And I think there are some things that we could probably do better if we get to see them in the tournament, but they battled.”

Prior to the game, Godlevske had the opportunity to talk to UConn’s legendary coach, the 11-time National Champion, Geno Auriemma.

“I’m a basketball junkie, and I like to know what those great ones think and what they think like,” Godlevske said. “What I’ve come to find out is that they are just very staunch in their beliefs and great decision makers and they don’t hesitate to make decisions. So we were talking about some of those things, and I just listened. I just asked questions and listened.”

Butler has a quick turnaround, with their last game of the regular season on the road at No. 24 DePaul on March 1 at 5:00 p.m.

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