Women’s Basketball: Tenacious Huskies’ defense downs UCLA on the road

UConn junior forward Napheesa Collier goes up for a layup surrounded by two California defenders in the Huskies' 82-47 win on Friday, Nov. 17 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. (Photo by Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus) 

UConn junior forward Napheesa Collier goes up for a layup surrounded by two California defenders in the Huskies' 82-47 win on Friday, Nov. 17 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. (Photo by Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus) 

On the road at the legendary Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, the UConn women’s basketball team suffocated the No. 5 UCLA Bruins with its defense on the way to a 78-60 win in its third game against a ranked opponent in just five days.

Playing without star guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson for the second consecutive game, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma played with a small rotation of just six players. This was partially due to the fact that he was disappointed with the play of his bench in the previous game against Maryland, but also because the Bruins gave the Huskies a little more of a challenge than other games.

Still, UConn (4-0) managed to find a way to win as they always do. And as they always seem to do, the Huskies managed to make a game against a No. 5 opponent in UCLA (3-1) look like a non-contest with their stifling defense and a 14-0 run in the third quarter that put the Bruins away for good.

UConn held UCLA to just 34 percent shooting from the field, and limited star point guard Jordin Canada – a likely first-round pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft – to just 5-16 shooting. Canada finished with 15 points for the game, as did uber-athletic forward Monique Billings, another likely first-round pick.

A big part of that stifling defense was the play of seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, who kept their hands active and relentlessly harassed Billings all night, while providing help to guard Canada at a moment’s notice.

The two Bruins’ stars are particularly at their best on the run and in transition, but the Huskies’ defense did not allow a single fastbreak point Tuesday night, a testament to how well they kept Canada and Billings in check.

Junior forward Napheesa Collier played all 40 minutes and paced UConn with 23 points on 9-15 shooting on the offensive end in what was a bit of a slump-buster for her, having struggled early on this season. Collier also tallied seven rebounds, four assists and a whopping five steals.

Freshman wing Megan Walker had her best game of the young season, scoring a career-best 13 points on 5-7 shooting, including a 3-3 performance from beyond the arc. At one point in the second quarter, Walker hit three consecutive threes for the Huskies to give them a 35-24 lead.

Tasked with a tough matchup against Canada, sophomore point guard Crystal Dangerfield excelled Tuesday night, scoring 17 points on 5-9 shooting. Dangerfield also shot well from three-point range, shooting 3-4 from beyond the arc against the Bruins after struggling against Maryland on Sunday.

Next up, the Huskies will head to the Mathew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon to participate in the women’s Nike-PK80 Phil Knight Invitational. There, they will face off against the 4-0 Michigan State Spartans, who currently rank just outside the Top-25 in the national polls.

This game will be the Spartans’ first test of the year, as they have only played significantly weaker opponents thus far and have outscored those opponents 399-224 in four games.

Michigan State’s offense is led by Branndais Agee, a 6-foot redshirt senior guard who averages 13.8 points in just under 25 minutes per game. Forward Taya Reimer, a transfer from Notre Dame, is another go-to scorer for the Spartans. Reimer averages 15 points in under 22 minutes per game, but has not played since Michigan State’s 95-63 win over Oakland on Nov. 13.

The Huskies will likely be without Samuelson for the third consecutive game as she continues to rehabilitate from a midfoot sprain, an injury that could see her out through UConn’s matchup with Notre Dame on Dec. 3.

The Huskies and Spartans will face off Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m., and will be available for viewing on the WatchESPN app.


Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball and football. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishanna.