It was dicey at halftime, but No. 5 UConn defeated its rival, Tennessee, on Thursday night.
After leading by just four points after two quarters, the Huskies got double-digit scoring from four players to beat the Lady Volunteers soundly, 84-67. The highest of those scorers was Lou Lopez Senechal.
The senior guard scored 26 points in 37 minutes of play including some big second-half shots that helped UConn improve to 19-2 for the season.
“Those moments are the most exciting when there’s a big crowd,” Lopez Senechal said of playing her first Tennessee game. “Just being able to play bigger teams, bigger challenges, that’s what I always wanted. And I think we came back strong, especially in the second half. It was a good game.”
The 2021-22 MAAAC Player of the Year played her first four seasons at Fairfield where her points steadily increased every season and led the Stags to an NCAA tournament appearance. Before transferring to UConn, she was averaging 19.5 points and taking upwards of 16 shots a game.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma told reporters after Thursday’s win that when he brought her on board, he didn’t think she’d have to do too much because there were so many stars already on the team.
And he said that he believed she was looking forward to having a smaller role on the team after being a star with Fairfield.
“Every shot she took at Fairfield was a big shot. Because if she didn’t score, the team was going to lose against the good teams,” Auriemma said. “Two weeks after she got here I thought, ‘oh man, whoever thought they were starting before Lou got here better get used to they’re not.’ You can tell there’s something special.”
Over her last five games, all wins, Lopez Senechal has scored in double-digits. She’s also now had back-to-back 20-point games. With all the injuries the program has had this season, including two key players like Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, the senior guard’s experience has been invaluable.
“I said to her two weeks ago, ‘Lou, I really apologize. I know when you left Fairfield you thought ‘I’m going to Connecticut and I get to relax. Not every shot is life or death.’ And now I’m putting you in a situation where every shot is life or death,” he said. “But she said, ‘I’m enjoying it. And I love the moment.’ She loves the moment… She’s going to make a great pro for somebody.”
Auriemma said the way Lopez Senechal carries herself on and off the court is like a pro, something that he admits he hasn’t really had in his time coaching, but that demeanor has helped his guard excel with a new program and in hostile environments like Tennessee.
“Lou’s Lou, man,” Auriemma said of Lopez Senchal not being fazed by the rivalry game. “She’s not going to get any All-America votes, but I don’t know anybody who has been more important to their team in America than she’s been to us.”