UConn is into the Sweet 16 for the 26th time, but for the first time in a long time, it wasn't easy.
The Huskies beat Buffalo 84-72 on Sunday in Storrs, Connecticut, behind 27 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists from Napheesa Collier, in their closest second-round game of the NCAA tournament since 1999. That year, UConn beat Xavier by two points before losing to Iowa State in the regional semifinals.
Using a mix of full-court pressure and a half-court trap, UConn jumped all over the Bulls, scoring the game's first 15 points. But the Huskies could not put Buffalo away. They still led 73-49 with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter when the struggles began. After a Collier layup with eight minutes remaining in the game, UConn went the next 5:44 without scoring.
Five fourth-quarter turnovers contributed to Buffalo getting back in the game. The Bulls got as close as eight twice, the final time at 77-69, before the Huskies were finally able to close it out on layups by Collier and Megan Walker.
After the great start, areas of concern crept in for UConn. The Bulls, who were the rare underdog against the Huskies to regain their composure and compete, collected 25 offensive rebounds. After that initial barrage when Buffalo turned the ball over six times, UConn forced only eight Buffalo turnovers the rest of the way.
Collier was brilliant throughout, but the rest of the lineup struggled at times.
Katie Lou Samuelson, in her second game back after missing four with back spasms, was more involved early and played a more physical game than she did in the first round against Towson. But she was only 4-of-12 from the field overall and 1-of-6 from 3-point range. Her only make from distance came 2:18 into the game. Samuelson finished her final game in Gampel Pavilion with 17 points.
Christyn Williams scored 17 points, but only four after halftime. Crystal Dangerfield and Walker combined to shoot 6-of-23 from the field. When Dangerfield went to the bench in the fourth quarter with foul trouble, the UConn offense struggled even more. Walker had trouble finishing at the rim and missed 12 of her 16 shots.
The Huskies were able to hold the nation's second-leading scorer, Cierra Dillard, to two points in the first quarter; but just like the rest of her Buffalo team, the senior didn't wilt like so many do against UConn. Dillard finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Collier made 12 of her 15 field-goal attempts and also blocked three shots, but she was just 3-of-7 from the free throw line, another area where the Huskies struggled. They were only 20-of-32 as a team.
Since that two-point win over Xavier in 1999, the next closest game in the second round for UConn prior to Sunday was a 15-point win over TCU in 2003.