In what is sure to be one of the most enticing matchups of the season, the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team will head down to College Park, Maryland to take on the No. 3 Maryland Terrapins in their final game of the calendar year. It will be a battle of two undefeated teams Thursday night when UConn visits Maryland in one of the most electric atmospheres in college basketball.
The Huskies come in to the game with an already incredible resume, having beaten powerhouses including Notre Dame, Baylor, DePaul, and Ohio State on their way to an 11-0 record to start the year. The winners of four consecutive national championships and 86 consecutive games will look to prove once again why they are the best of the best.
The Terrapins aren’t a team to scoff at, however, as they have started the season 12-0 and earned a big win on the road against No. 7 Louisville by a score of 78-72. While the rest of their schedule hasn’t been too much of a challenge, Maryland has averaged an impressive 91.2 points per game and could put up a ton of points on the Huskies if they aren’t up to the challenge defensively.
“They’re really good, I think it’s going to be a pretty tough matchup for us,” Katie Lou Samuelson said. “I think that they’re going to come out ready to play and we just have to match whatever intensity they bring and bring it that much more.”
A big part of the Terrapins’ offense is the dynamic duo of Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who average 17.5 and 16.5 points per game, respectively. Together, they pose a big threat to any defense, even UConn’s stout unit which has only allowed 56.5 points per game.
Jones, who stands at 6-foot-3 and is a big physical presence in the post, led the nation in field goal percentage last season with 66.5 percent. The Huskies could have a very tough time dealing with her size, and it will be up to their undersized forwards Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams to keep Jones in check.
“[Jones] is really difficult to keep out of the lane,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We’ve played some great post players, but I don’t know if we’ve faced anybody that big and that physical this year. She was very difficult last year and she’ll be even more difficult this year because she’s a year older and a little bit better.”
Auriemma doesn’t think Jones is all Maryland has either. He was effusive in his praise of Kimbrough and suggested that the duo would be incredibly hard to stop in Thursday’s matchup.
“Kimbrough is just one of the best shooters in the country. She might be one of the best players in the country,” said Auriemma. “So it’s not like they’re a one-dimensional team, and they’re at home. It’s not going to be easy.”
UConn will be thankful to have senior guard Saniya Chong back to full strength against Maryland. The Huskies really lacked backcourt depth in the two games Chong missed due to a concussion. Although she didn’t start against Nebraska, Chong put in good minutes and showed what she is capable of doing for her team.
“I just don’t want to think about getting injured like I did before, I can’t really think about that,” Chong said. “I just need to go out there, and play as hard as I can. My team needed me so I wanted to go out there and prove it to them [against Nebraska].”
After several more days of rest and rehabilitation, Chong is likely to be back in the starting lineup in place of freshman Crystal Dangerfield and will be vital to the team as they take on the Terrapins in a hostile environment.
“[Chong] has looked really good. I hate to ever have a kid lose their job because they got hurt,” Auriemma said. “If she’s back to 100 percent and it certainly looks like she is, I don’t see why she shouldn’t get her starting job back.”
The Maryland game will be the last non-conference game for UConn prior to the start of the conference schedule and will likely be their most difficult game left in the season, with exception to a game against No. 6 South Carolina at home in February. That said, if they can defeat the Terrapins on Thursday, it is likely that the Huskies will have no challenge in breaking their own record of 90 consecutive wins in what could be yet another championship season for the UConn women’s basketball team.