Column: Dangerfield key for Huskies’ hopes at fifth-straight title

Crystal Dangerfield looks for a pass route during the Huskies 66-55 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. Dangerfield has become a key player in the Husky line-up. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

UConn women’s basketball is all about streaks. That’s what happens when you’re so good for so long. The winning streak has now hit 100 games and doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. The Huskies also own the longest road winning streak in women’s college basketball history at 36 games. When UConn is done with Tulane on Saturday in New Orleans, there’s a good chance it will be 37.

Any type of streak, good or bad, is impressive in some way. The streaks that UConn have right now aren’t any different. But to me, there’s one Huskies’ streak that stands above the rest: four-straight national championships.

Winning so much for so long is amazing. Doing it for four years straight in a single-elimination tournament is unbelievable. This year’s team has a good chance to extend that streak to a mind-boggling fifth-straight national championship. It won’t be as easy as it has been in years past, but it’s on the table.

Between the core of Napheesa Collier, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams, the Huskies have the talent to win it all once again. The consistency of these four is truly remarkable. No matter who the opponent is, you know they will score, defend and rebound night in and night out. Not many teams have one player that they can count on like that. The Huskies have four. That’s a huge deal.

But even with these four, it won’t always be smooth sailing on the quest for five in a row. Someone will have to rise to the occasion in order to keep the Huskies on top. That someone is freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield.

Dangerfield has the skills to make an impact off the bench and flip the dynamic of any game on its head. Her speed and passing ability alone allow for plenty of open looks for teammates as well as easy buckets for herself, either from 3-point range or driving to the hoop.

The comparisons to Moriah Jefferson are inevitable, although not entirely accurate. Yes, Dangerfield is small, fast and can score like Jefferson did. But Jefferson was a much better defender and smarter with the ball towards the end of her career in Storrs. Dangerfield is a better shooter than Jefferson was as a freshman, and is just as good of a passer, if not better.

Like any freshman, Dangerfield has been inconsistent this season. There’s been highlights (like her 19 points in the win over No. 2 Baylor) and lowlights (getting benched and playing single-digit minutes on the road at Nebraska). Head coach Geno Auriemma has been hard on her, but that’s not a surprise. He’s hardest on the ones that have a chance to be the greatest. We’ve seen this with Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Breanna Stewart and so many others. Dangerfield has a real chance to be the next great UConn point guard, but first, she has to fight through the bumps in the road like those before her.

Despite her struggles, Dangerfield seems to already have a knack for big moments. She stepped up big time after Nurse was hobbled with a right ankle injury in the win over No. 6 South Carolina, playing 30 solid minutes and adding five points and seven assists with just two turnovers. Even with a player like Nurse off the floor, Dangerfield’s ability to handle the ball and create easy shots for Williams, Collier and Chong, who is an excellent spot-up shooter when she gets to play off the ball.

It would be a lie to say that the team is better when Dangerfield is on the floor for a player like Nurse or Chong. But when Dangerfield is on, the team plays different, with a more focused effort to push the tempo. That’s a nice trick to have for Auriemma, who can use Dangerfield as a weapon off the bench to dictate the pace of the game to his choosing.

When Dangerfield is at her best, there’s little to no drop-off in ability when she comes in for a starter. For a Huskies team that rarely plays more than seven players in tight games, having six starter-caliber players is a huge deal. Based on her performance against the Gamecocks, it seems as if Dangerfield has turned a corner and is ready to contribute on a more consistent basis.

Now would be a fitting time to lock in. As March and early April get closer, the Huskies will need all hands on deck for a shot at five titles in a row. There will be plenty of big moments along the way, and Dangerfield seems ready to make her mark.


Dan Madigan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.