Despite wins over two ranked teams and a win streak that just reached 80 games after a 37-point win Tuesday, UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma doesn’t think his young Huskies team is tough enough.
“We don’t have that kind of talent that blows you away like we’ve had in the past. That means that every single minute of every day, every practice, every game, they’ve got to be tough, hard-nosed, and I mean really tough. That’s hard to do,” Auriemma said. “You have to acquire (that toughness).”
That toughness – or lack thereof – will be put to the test this December, where five of No. 2 UConn’s seven games will be against ranked opponents. The toughest stretch begins this Thursday, where the Huskies take on No. 15 DePaul. After the Blue Demons, UConn will have to deal with No. 14 Texas at Mohegan Sun and No. 1 Notre Dame on the road.
“Thursday night– I know they’re good, and I know Texas is good. And I know the team we’re playing next Wednesday is really good,” Auriemma said. “I’m hoping all the teams after that are really, really, really good, because we need a good old-fashioned ass-kicking right now.”
Auriemma’s longtime friend and Team USA assistant coach, Doug Bruno, coaches Depaul. While the Huskies have won 13 straight against the Blue Demons, Bruno’s team has a knack for playing UConn close due to quality coaching along with smart and talented players.
Last season, the Blue Demons lost to the Huskies 86-70 at home, one of the closest games UConn played last season. This year, DePaul is equally talented, owning a 5-1 record this season with their lone loss coming to No. 4 Baylor by 32 points in the Gulf Coast Showcase. One day later, the Blue Demons answered with a throttling of their own, taking down No. 20 Syracuse with a score of 108-84.
“They’re unpredictable, they’re going to try and score a lot of points, and they’re going to have a bunch of tough kids that play hard, and I love how competitive [Bruno] is. He’s a competitive guy, I love that about him,” Auriemma said.
Senior guard Jessica January is DePaul’s top scoring threat, averaging 18.5 points and six rebounds. January nearly posted a triple-double in the win over the Orange, scoring 18 points with 13 assists and eight rebounds. She also led the Blue Demons in scoring with 18 points in the loss to UConn last season. Guard Ashton Milltender is second on DePaul in scoring with 14.8 points per game and serves as the team’s best 3-point threat, shooting 46.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The Huskies may get an offensive weapon of their own back in Crystal Dangerfield, who missed the win over Chattanooga with concussion-like symptoms. Auriemma told the media Tuesday night that Dangerfield passed two of the necessary four steps to return to the court, and that barring any setbacks, she should be good to go against the Blue Demons.
Dangerfield is averaging nine points and just over four assists per game in her freshman campaign, and has been a huge spark off the bench. With her out against the Mocs, Auriemma relied heavily on his starters and gave fellow freshman Molly Bent a few more minutes. Dangerfield’s return gives the team some much-needed depth for this stretch run against ranked opponents.
Despite the results of these big-time matchups, Auriemma firmly believes this difficult stretch of the schedule may cause the Huskies to struggle or even lose their first game in 80 tries, but is necessary in order for them to grow and have a chance at a fifth-straight national championship.
“I hope these ranked teams are as good as everyone says they are, because we need to get our ass beat soon, and bad, so that some of our guys will come to realize that this is not as easy as they think it is,” Auriemma said.
UConn and DePaul will tip off at 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion. The game will be broadcasted on SNY.