In the first exhibition game of the season Wednesday night, the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team breezed by Division II Fort Hays State. Sunday afternoon, the Huskies will play another Division II school when they host the defending National Champion Ashland University Eagles.
The Huskies were unanimously selected No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll released on Thursday. It is the fourth time in the past five years that UConn has been ranked first in the preseason poll, and the 12th time in program history.
In the first exhibition, UConn defeated Fort Hays State 82-37 in an entire team effort; 11 players stepped onto the court for head coach Geno Auriemma. Don’t expect that to continue after the Huskies round out their exhibition slate on Sunday, though.
“The only negative to trying to play a lot of players is your offense suffers,” Auriemma said. “You can’t possibly run good offense and get great shots every time down the floor and have any kind of flow to your offense when you try to play 10 players.”
Against Fort Hays State, the Huskies were led by 19 points from senior Kia Nurse, followed by Napheesa Collier, Azurá Stevens and Katie Lou Samuelson, who also scored in double figures. Stevens is playing her first games as a Husky after sitting last season out due to NCAA transfer rules. The redshirt junior added seven rebounds and four blocks in her 16 minutes on the court.
Other newcomers to UConn’s lineup on Wednesday night were the four true freshmen of Auriemma’s recruiting class; Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Megan Walker, Mikayla Coombs and Alexis Gordon. The freshmen contributed just four points combined, but Auriemma expects them to settle in and grow more confident as the season starts.
“(The newcomers) will look even better our next game when we play Sunday,” Auriemma said. “This always happens in the preseason, as the games go on, they get a little bit better and better.”
Sunday’s opponent will be tougher for the Huskies, as Ashland is the defending Division II National Champions. The Eagles are ranked No. 1 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II Preseason Poll, receiving 23 of a possible 24 first-place votes. Ashland finished 37-0 last season on their way to the program’s second national championship.
Ashland might be a Division II school, but the Eagles were solid offensively in an exhibition match against No. 5 Ohio State last Sunday. Despite losing by 30, Ashland scored 80 points. The Eagles were led by 21 points from senior Laina Snyder and 16 from senior Julie Worley.
Sunday’s exhibition will tip off at 1 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion as part of a double-header in the first games under the newly-renovated roof. The men’s basketball team will also host a scrimmage against Queens (N.Y.) at 5:30 p.m.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.