Crystal Dangerfield may be small in stature, but she made a big impact in the UConn women’s basketball team’s decisive win over No. 2 Baylor.
The 5-foot-5-inch highly-touted freshman impacted the game in seemingly every way imaginable, leading all scorers with 19 points while adding five assists and four rebounds in the Huskies’ 72-61 victory in their home opener at Gampel Pavilion.
“I thought Dangerfield was the best player on the court. She just played really well for a freshman,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “She certainly kicked our rear-end tonight.”
Dangerfield’s presence was felt the minute she stepped on the court, hitting a pair of 3-pointers early in the first quarter after coming off the bench and substituting in for Saniya Chong. Dangerfield’s speed was a problem for the Lady Bears, who simply could not keep the freshman contained.
“Crystal definitely knows how to play in these big games, and I know that she’s always going to step up. Once she hit that three, I knew she was going to be one of the best people to go to this game,” Katie Lou Samuelson said of Dangerfield’s first 3-pointer. “Every single night we can have a different person step up and be a big key to our win like [Napheesa Collier] did last game. I think Crystal was that big spark we needed.”
After missing a shot midway through the second quarter, Dangerfield quickly chased down her own miss to bank in a short jumper. With Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams all in foul trouble for the final five minutes of the first half, Dangerfield paced the offense, hitting a key floater over Baylor’s Lauren Cox with 3:44 left to put the Huskies up 27-26 before taking a 32-29 lead into halftime.
Dangerfield continued to come through in the clutch in the game’s final quarter, stealing the ball from Baylor’s Alexis Jones with 3:50 left to play that resulted in a layup by Williams. On UConn’s very next possession, Dangerfield split three Lady Bears defenders before finishing a layup in traffic to put UConn up 62-56. Just a few minutes later, she put the game away for good with a jumper with 1:08 remaining to put the Huskies up 10.
While she may only have two collegiate games under her belt, Dangerfield is not afraid of the big moment due to her time spent with Team USA. In fact, it’s actually something she embraces.
“I knew it would come sooner or later,” Dangerfield said of getting the ball with the game on the line. “Coaches know that I’m capable of it, and they want to see it and they expect it, so I just have to go out there and do it.”
Dangerfield’s size, style of play and speed make the comparisons to former UConn great Moriah Jefferson inevitable. While Dangerfield still has a long way to go to match Jefferson’s numerous team and personal accolades, she is certainly more polished, especially offensively, than Jefferson was as a freshman, demonstrated by a smooth shooting stroke and poise to run the offense against one of the nation’s top teams. That certainly bodes well for a UConn team in need of a spark off the bench, something Jefferson excelled at during her first national championship season.
“I said to people that Crystal coming in, out of high school, was a little further ahead than where Moriah was coming in out of high school, simply because of the environment that she came from and the USA basketball experience, you can’t discount that.” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I probably remember Moriah better than anybody else does, and I’m not exaggerating when I said that she’s further ahead right now, after two games, than Moriah was. Will she be further ahead three years from now? I just hope she catches up [to Moriah].”