DALLAS (AP) — Credit top-ranked UConn with staying on task Sunday and not being distracted by a showcase game later this week.
Christyn Williams scored 21 points and Megan Walker added 15 as the Huskies eased past SMU 80-42 to remain undefeated heading into Thursday’s showdown against No. 6 Baylor in Hartford. The Huskies (12-0, 3-0 American) never trailed and led by as many as 40 points in running their record in AAC regular-season games to 105-0. In their 11 meetings with SMU, the margins of victory have ranged between 61 and 33 points.
“I think we definitely do a good job of making sure we focus on that game that’s ahead,” said senior Kyla Irwin, who scored a career-high 14 points including 4 of 4 on 3-pointers. “We don’t try to take games off and think it’s easy. We want to play basketball, how we play it.”
SMU (6-7, 0-1) faced its first ranked opponent this season. The Mustangs were led by reserve Amber Bacon with 12 points and Reagan Bradley with 11. Johnasia Cash, the team’s leading scorer going into Sunday averaging 10.7 points, finished with two points.
SMU coach Travis Mays said his team looked like it was defeated “from the jump.”
“You have to put your best foot forward to see how much you’ve grown, and I don’t think we did that,” Mays said.
Williams and Walker have scored in double figures in every game this season. The Huskies outscored the Mustangs 40-14 in the paint and 23-9 off turnovers.
UConn built a double-digit lead early, helped by SMU hitting only 3 of 16 field goal attempts in the first quarter.
“We’re adamant about setting the pace, and we did,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, adding that the Huskies’ play in the paint and ball movement were the primary positives to take from a blowout win into a top-10 matchup.
“Thursday’s going to be a real challenge. A real challenge,” he added. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. They’ve got a challenge in front of them, too.”
Irwin has made eight starts this season, including the past seven games, after making only two starts in her previous seasons with the Huskies. Auriemma said she’s plays as good as anyone else on the team.
“Kyla spent the first few years at Connecticut trying to be somebody else and prove that she belonged there, and that just kept backfiring on her,” Auriemma said. “Now she’s finally realized ‘I’m just going to do what I do well and stick with that.’ ”
Auriemma said he isn’t sure what kind of atmosphere to expect at the XL Center when the Bears visit on Thursday.
“Our crowd’s a little more like, ‘Eh, it’s Connecticut. These are our guys. We see ‘em all the time. It’s Baylor. Just the next team on the road to where we’re going, to the Final Four,’ ” he said. “I think our fans will be excited because it’s Baylor. How excited? I think that’s up to us as a team. It’ll be interesting to see how many people show up.”
UConn: Thursday’s game will be the first of three remaining marquee non-conference games for the Huskies. They will also face No. 22 Tennessee on Jan. 23 in Hartford and will host No. 2 Oregon on campus on Feb. 3.
Auriemma on his scheduling philosophy: “You have to get smacked around a little bit. Or you can not play these, win every game and pretend everything’s great.”
SMU: The Mustangs went into Sunday’s game with six losses by an average of 8.7 points, including two one-point defeats. Such are the growing pains for a team that starts one junior, three sophomores and one freshman and seeks its first winning season since 2016-17.
UConn: Baylor handed the Huskies the largest of their three defeats last season, 68-57 at Waco.
SMU: The Mustangs will play Wednesday at East Carolina, where they’re 1-8 and haven’t won since 2008.