Fresh off a close road win over No. 12 Florida State, the UConn women’s basketball team is back in action with an even harder test: the Huskies’ home opener against No. 2 Baylor.
“Our nonconference schedule is phenomenal,” junior guard Kia Nurse said. “To have two tests, one on the road and then a big one here (at Gampel) right off the bat is great for us. Obviously it shows our strengths and weaknesses.”
The Bears (2-0) are fresh off a 14-point victory over No. 10 UCLA on Monday. Forward Kalani Brown led the Baylor attack against the Bruins with 25 points and 19 rebounds. Defending the 6-foot-7-inch Brown will be a problem for the Huskies (1-0), who lack significant size other than Natalie Butler after losing forwards Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck to graduation.
Aside from Brown, the Bears feature two other tall and talented frontcourt players in forward Lauren Cox, this year’s No. 1 recruit, and Beatrice Mompremier. Both players stand in at 6-foot-4 and will present their fair share of problems for UConn defensively and on the glass.
“Their size obviously is glaring,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We just don’t have that matchup, so I don’t think there’s any one way that we can guard them. We have to figure out what works best and try to keep them off balance a little bit.”
To combat the size of the Bears, UConn will likely rely on zone defense for at least parts of the game. The Huskies had success with the zone in the win over the Seminoles and should be able to keep Baylor from exploiting mismatches that could come from man-to-man defense and conserve some energy for a UConn team that may only use seven to eight players.
In their final practice before their showdown with Baylor, the Huskies worked on a 3-2 zone, forcing the wings to cover the corners and allowing the frontcourt players to remain along the blocks in the paint.
“I would think that because we don’t have a lot of depth that we will probably have to do something like that keep us from having to chase people and protect our kids from foul trouble,” Auriemma said of using zone defense.
After scoring a career-high 28 points in the win over Florida State, Napheesa Collier will likely once again be an integral part of the UConn offense along with Gabby Williams. The duo’s speed, athleticism and ability to score from all over will be key against the larger Baylor frontcourt.
“(Napheesa) and Gabby are hard to guard in certain areas on the floor,” Auriemma said. “If we get the right matchups and get them the ball in the right places, I think we can (score).”
The game against Baylor also will feature the unveiling of a national championship banner prior to tip-off for the fourth-consecutive year, officially putting an end to UConn’s undefeated 2015-16 season.
“To see the banner unveiled is obviously something that is super exciting,” Nurse said. “To have it unveiled in front of our fans for the first is game is always exciting because our fans are so great.”
Baylor and the Huskies will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast locally on SNY.