Women's Basketball: Huskies battle Knights for first place in American in return to Gampel

 South Florida forward Maria Jespersen blocks the lane as Connecticut forward Napheesa Collier (24) tries to go to the basket during the third quarter of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. UConn won 100-49. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

South Florida forward Maria Jespersen blocks the lane as Connecticut forward Napheesa Collier (24) tries to go to the basket during the third quarter of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. UConn won 100-49. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The UConn women’s basketball team will return to Gampel Pavilion Tuesday night for a matchup with the UCF Knights. The Huskies have not played in front of the Gampel crowd since Nov. 17 against California and Tuesday’s contest will be just the second regular season game in Storrs this year.

The Huskies (13-0, 3-0 the American) are coming off a stellar performance against conference rival USF. In a difficult road matchup against the Bulls, who were voted to finish second in the conference in the American Preseason Coaches’ Poll, UConn dominated on its way to a 100-49 victory.

The UConn win knocked USF to 2-1 in American play, leaving three undefeated teams tied at the top of the standings. UCF (11-5, 3-0 the American) is one of the three schools remaining undefeated, along with UConn and Houston. The Knights are 3-0 in the American for the first time since joining the conference.

After starting the season 2-3, the Knights have rebounded to win nine of their last 11, including a current four-game winning streak. UCF is led by a stingy defense that gives up just 54.7 points per game, 10th-best in Division I and edging UConn by two points for the best scoring defense in the American.

The Knights’ offense is powered by senior guards Aliyah Gregory and Zakiya Sanders. Gregory was named to the American All-Conference First Team last season, becoming the first UCF player to earn the honor, and was voted onto the Preseason All-Conference First Team this season. Sanders, a redshirt senior transfer, has burst onto the American scene this season after spending her first three collegiate years playing for Albany. The two seniors lead the team in scoring, averaging exactly 13.3 points each.

Freshman Masseny Kaba has been a key addition to the senior-led UCF team. Kaba was named to the American Weekly Honor Roll this week after leading the Knights in scoring for both of their wins last week, averaging 14.5 points. Kaba is the top-scoring freshman in the conference and is second on the team in both rebounds (5.6 per game) and blocks (0.5 per game).

UConn is 6-0 all-time against UCF, including wins by 36 and 22 points in their two matchups last season. The Huskies are undefeated at Gampel Pavilion over the past five seasons and have won 102 of their last 104 games in Storrs.

Junior Katie Lou Samuelson will hope to have better luck in UConn’s return to Gampel Pavilion, as she came down awkwardly and injured her foot against California in the last game played in Storrs, forcing her to miss the next four games. Samuelson has recovered from the injury and leads the Huskies in scoring with 18.8 points per game.

Against UCF, UConn has a big advantage at the 3-point line that will likely be exploited. The Huskies shoot 40 percent from long range and average 9.1 made 3-pointers per game while the Knights shoot just 26.7 percent from beyond the arc and make 1.5 threes per game.

UConn starters Samuelson (27), Kia Nurse (33) and Crystal Dangerfield (29) have each made more individual 3-pointers than UCF (24) has made all season. Samuelson and Nurse are two of just four players in Division I to shoot 50 percent or better from the 3-point line, and Dangerfield isn’t far behind at 47.5 percent.

The Huskies and Knights will battle for first place in the American at 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. The game will air on SNY.


Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.