EUGENE, Ore. — There was no mistaking when top-ranked UConn’s killer instinct started to kick in Saturday.
Michigan State just didn’t expect it to show up so early against the Huskies.
Azura Stevens recorded one of three UConn double-doubles and reached 1,000 points for her career as the top-ranked Huskies beat Michigan State 96-62 at the PK80 Invitational.
Stevens had 25 points and 16 rebounds for the Huskies (5-0), who won their 136th consecutive game against an unranked opponent. Kia Nurse added 20 points for UConn, Napheesa Collier had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Crystal Dangerfield had 10 points and 10 assists.
“There are times during the game when the pace of the game gets to the other team and you can see it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We try to look for that time — when does it show itself that the pace is too much for them to handle — and we kind of try to go at another gear.
“We know when we’re in the middle of it, that’s for sure.”
The Huskies built a 46-21 lead at the half by dominating inside with a 30-2 edge in points in the paint, which grew to 56-24 by game’s end. They also had a 46-28 rebounding edge after Michigan State came in leading the nation in rebound average (57.0) and margin (plus-28).
The Spartans missed their first six shots and trailed 16-2 after Collier blocked three of their first nine attempts. UConn scored the first 17 points of the second quarter to go up 36-9.
“The first quarter was all just us rebounding, outletting and going down and shooting the basketball,” Auriemma said. “The second and third quarter was us playing basketball the way we play.”
Sidney Cooks led the Spartans (4-1) with 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench, and Branndais Agee scored 10 points, giving her 1,001 for her career.
After shooting just 8-for-34 in the first half, Michigan State used a strong fourth quarter to improve to 34.3 percent for the game.
However, the Huskies only got hotter in the second half, too, finishing 41 of 72 for 56.9 percent.
“I wasn’t scared of the pace and we had quite a few good looks at the bucket from the arc,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “That’s the UConn factor.
“It’s a little bit of that UConn, play-the-front-of-the-jersey mentality. I think some of our kids were a little bit intimidated by that.”
The only glitch for the Huskies came from the 3-point line, where they were 1-for-13 in the first half after shooting 46.9 percent through their first four games. UConn finished 7-for-24 (29.2 percent) beyond the arc.
Auriemma said the credit should go to his guards, Dangerfield and Nurse.
“I think the two of them are doing a great job of controlling the tempo of the game,” he said. “Where the ball goes and how it gets there and making enough shots to keep everybody honest.
“Our guards are really, really good right now.”
UConn has won 40 consecutive games away from the XL Center in Hartford, where it has won 67 games in a row with No. 6 Notre Dame visiting next on Dec. 2.
Michigan State, playing its first No. 1 opponent in 10 years, saw its fast start grind to a halt on the second leg of a three-game trip.
UConn will continue its run atop the top 25, and Merchant said the Huskies certainly deserve it. “They’re just the gold standard. There’s kind of UConn and everybody else, quite honestly,” she said. Michigan State received votes in this week’s poll.
Stevens had 12 points and eight rebounds in the first half, once she determined that shooting 3-pointers wasn’t the best use of her 6-foot-6 frame. “We got her to be a little more aggressive and she was really good in the second quarter and the second half, because we got her moving,” Auriemma said. “She went to the offensive glass. She did things that basketball players do.”
HE SAID IT
Auriemma was effusive in his praise of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, for whom the tournament was named to celebrate his 80th birthday.
“Just what Nike means to basketball and what Phil Knight means. It’s pretty amazing that one guy is associated with a global brand like that,” the coach said. “He’s just such an iconic figure that every time you’re around (him), you see a different side that you didn’t know existed.”
Would Auriemma be up for PK81?
“I think you should have it in Madison Square Garden. I think that would be good, a nice little bus ride for us, but bring all the gear. Don’t leave that here.”
STAT OF THE GAME
UConn had 30 assists on 41 field goals, led by Dangerfield’s career-high 10. Eight Huskies had at least one assist.
Michigan State: Heads east across three times zones to play Miami on Thursday night.
UConn: Finishes its three-game western swing against Nevada in Reno on Tuesday night.