Women's Basketball: Huskies open title defense against No. 6 Ohio State

UConn sophomore guard Gabby Williams takes a shot during the Huskies' preseason exhibition game against Vanguard on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. (Ashley Maher/The Daily Campus)

The No. 1 ranked UConn women’s basketball team begins their journey for an unprecedented fourth-straight national championship on the road against No. 6 Ohio State.

“The fact that it’s our first game makes it challenging, and that’s good because this particular group needs it and wants it,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “There’s no downside to playing these kinds of games early in the season, middle of the season, late in the season, there’s never any downside of playing these games so we mine as well play them and find what you’re working with.”

The Buckeyes (0-1 overall) welcome the Huskies at home after suffering an 88-80 loss on the road to No. 2 South Carolina last Friday night. Sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell and senior Ameryst Alston combined for 59 points in the loss, with Mitchell scoring a game-high 36 points.

Mitchell led the country in scoring last season as a freshman, averaging 24.9 points per game and was named an All-American. She was the only player in the country to score over 800 points last season, and also set an NCAA single-season record with 127 three-pointers while leading the Buckeyes with 4.2 assists per game.

Alston averaged 19.8 points per game last season, and was named First Team All-Big Ten for the second-straight season. The Canton, Ohio native scored 23 points in the season-opening loss to South Carolina and went 4-5 from the three-point line.

Overall, Mitchell and Alston combined to take 52 percent of the Buckeye’s shots last season, leading Ohio State to a 24-11 record. In their first game this season, the two took 43 of the team’s 80 field goal teams, good for 54 percent of the Buckeye’s shots.

“Certain situations that you play against you have to be realistic,” Auriemma said of the Buckeye’s offense. “Somebody that takes 30 shots a night, you really think you’re going to keep them from taking X amounts of shots? They had three assists last night [against South Carolina] on 26 baskets. Somebody’s determined to get shots up, they’re going to get shots up,” “Our job is to make sure that we make it as difficult as possible for them to get the shots they want to take, and then capitalize on the opportunities that we have.”

With Mitchell and Alston’s talent and their ability to create their own shot, the Huskies will have a tall task containing arguably one the most dynamic duos in the country. UConn guards Kia Nurse and Moriah Jefferson will likely draw the assignment of taking on the tandem, and their ability to keep the two in check will likely decide the fate of the game.

“Their guards will shoot the ball from pretty much anywhere on the floor, senior point guard Moriah Jefferson said of Mitchell and Alston. “It’s not a time where you can take a break on defense, you always have to have your hands up and I think it will be a good test for our guards on defense.”

The Huskies will also take on the Buckeyes with a shorter bench than usual. Junior guard Saniya Chong will miss the season opener with a sore IT band and freshman De’Janae Boykin remains out with a sore Achilles tendon. UConn is also without redshirt sophomore Natalie Butler, who is out for at least 4-6 weeks as she recovers from surgery on her thumb.

“Hopefully by next weekend she’ll be good,” Auriemma said of Chong’s injury. “De’Janae hasn’t practiced in at least 10 days…So hopefully get her in the middle of next week doing at least some half court stuff.”

The Huskies’ season opener against the Buckeyes will be broadcast on ESPN2. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m.


Daniel Madigan is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.