No. 1 UConn races past Creighton, claims Big East regular-season title for 20th time

There are undoubtedly bigger, more ambitious goals on Geno Auriemma’s to-do list. That said, for the longest time, the first order of business for the Hall of Fame coach has been winning the conference’s regular-season championship.

Check.

Top-ranked UConn accomplished the feat Thursday, and did so without much trouble, hammering Creighton 81-49 at D.J. Sokol Arena in Omaha, Neb.

It was the Huskies’ 20th Big East title and first since 2011. They spent the last seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference, where they went 139-0 in league play.

“All those years in all the various versions of the Big East, and then the last seven years in the AAC, and now back to the Big East, that’s always goal No. 1, that’s always the thing that I think players will respond to,” Auriemma said. “It proves that you’re the best team in the league that you play in.”

Creighton scored the game’s first bucket, but UConn (19-1, 16-0) rolled from there, ripping off 16 straight points. Freshman Nika Muhl had 11 of those, and 15 of the Huskies’ first 20.

Muhl didn’t score in the second or third quarters, but finished with a team-high 19 points and five steals. She was 8 of 13 from the floor, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.

“She’s been working on shooting the ball. You know, she’s my slime, man. What can I tell you?” Auriemma said, referring to a nickname for a friend. “That’s like the ultimate. That’s her, Nika. That’s my slime.”

“He doesn’t know what it means,” Muhl said with a laugh.

The Huskies shot 51.6% and were balanced offensively, with three players joining Muhl in double figures. Guard Christyn Williams scored 16 points, Paige Bueckers added 13 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa finished with 11 points and 11 boards.

Guard Temi Carda led Creighton (7-10) with 24 points.

“I don’t know that it was always smooth sailing,” Auriemma said, “but I like that we spread it around and we weren’t so dependent on one or two people to get most of the scoring.”

For a change, it wasn’t Bueckers or Williams doing the heavy lifting offensively. That’s thanks to Muhl, a defensive-minded, pass-first guard who poured in 15 points in the first 6 minutes and 23 seconds. She hit three 3-pointers and was 6 for 8 shooting in the first quarter, springing UConn to a 27-13 lead.

“I was building confidence in practice a lot the past few days,” Muhl said, “and they were leaving me quite wide open at the beginning of the game. I just took the shots, had the confidence, and my teammates had the confidence in me.”

And like that, Creighton was toast. The Huskies’ lead ballooned to 24 in the second quarter and was 42-21 at the break. UConn freshmen accounted for 29 of those points.

UConn has two regular-season games remaining — at Butler on Saturday before finishing at home against Marquette on Monday — before shifting its sights to the Big East Tournament at Mohegan Sun, where it will be the No. 1 seed.

“A lot of things go into being a championship team, and learning how to win a championship is No. 1,” Auriemma said. “I think our freshmen, they got a taste of what that feels like. That’s important, that they have short-term goals, and a short-term goal is winning a championship.

“Now, the next short-term goal will be to win the tournament championship. Then after that, we can set our sights on what comes next.”

Auriemma, though, made this clear: he’s not taking anything for granted along the way, nor should his players.

“It means a lot,” he said of winning the regular-season crown. “If it didn’t, they wouldn’t give you any trophies for it.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour