The UConn women’s basketball team will be in action Wednesday for the first time since its heartbreaking Final Four loss seven months ago. Wednesday’s game, an exhibition against Fort Hays State, will not count for anything, but we’ll get our first live-action look at this year’s team.
Fort Hays State is a Division II program that likely will not provide much competition to the preseason No. 1 Huskies. The Tigers went 22-8 last season, losing in the conference quarterfinals.
UConn finished with a 36-1 record last season, losing to Mississippi State in overtime of the national semifinals to end the Huskies’ historic 111 game winning streak. The team retains most of its rotation players from last year, including Associated Press First Team All-Americans Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, Second Team All-American Gabby Williams and Honorable Mention Kia Nurse.
The No. 1 Huskies received 25 of 32 first-place votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll, with defending national champion South Carolina earning the other seven votes. UConn was also unanimously selected as the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, with Collier named the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.
Wednesday’s exhibition will provide the first look at six newcomers on the bench for UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.
Redshirt junior Azurá Stevens and redshirt sophomore Batouly Camara will each be playing their first game in a Husky uniform. Both Stevens and Camara sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Stevens transferred from Duke after her sophomore season in which she averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds. Auriemma has compared the 6-foot-6 guard/forward to Kevin Durant, and Stevens is expected to play a big role for UConn this season.
Camara is a former Kentucky Wildcat, transferring after her freshman season. In her one year of experience, Camara averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds, coming off the bench for most of the season and averaging 18.3 minutes for the year.
Incoming freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Alexis Gordon and Megan Walker will also be making their UConn debuts as part of a highly-touted recruiting class. All four are ranked five-stars and land in the top 30 of the ESPNW 100, led by Walker’s No. 1 ranking in the recruiting.
Outside of Samuelson, Collier, Williams and Nurse, the other UConn returners are sophomores Crystal Dangerfield, Molly Bent and Kyla Irwin. Dangerfield will likely step into the starting point guard role with the graduation of Saniya Chong.
The Huskies are loaded with depth, providing plenty of options for Auriemma to test in the first of two exhibition games. Wednesday’s game will tip off at 7 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.