The UConn women’s basketball team begins their quest for a fourth-straight national championship with an exhibition game against Lubbock Christian University Monday night at 7 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford.
“Going into Monday’s game, the exhibition game, we’re probably okay because we have four starters back from last year’s team,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “They seem to be at a pretty high level. The issues pop up when you try and incorporate some of the newer guys in there…I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Lubbock Christian heads to Hartford to kick off their first season as a full-fledged member of Division II. Last season, the Lady Chaps posted a 21-4 record and tied for the Heartland Conference regular season championship. Lubbock Christian was not allowed to participate in any postseason play as it wrapped up its final year as a provisional member of Division II.
This season, the Lady Chaps were picked to win the preseason Heartland Conference poll, receiving 17 of 20 first place votes. LCU opened up their season on Halloween with a 119-40 win over NAIA school Fisher College. Nicole Hampton led the way for the Lady Chaps with 16 points in the victory, with six other LCU players finishing with double figures.
“You have to go around looking for like really good Division II schools, and they’re one of the better ones, so it should be good,” Auriemma said.
Despite LCU’s status as a Division II team, the Lady Chaps could give the Huskies some trouble with their size in the post. LCU boasts four players over six feet, including forward Kellyn Schneider, a 6-foot-5-inch McDonald’s All-American Nominee out of high school that transferred to Lubbock Christian from Texas Tech. Schneider played two seasons at Texas Tech before coming to LCU, where she was third in Division II with 113 blocks and averaged 8.4 points per game and 10.3 rebounds a game.
Schneider and 6-foot-4-inch forward Tess Bruffey could serve as a good test for the Huskies as they prepare to begin their season without 6-foot-5-inch center Natalie Butler, who is out until late December with torn ligaments in her left thumb. Butler sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after transferring to the Huskies from Georgetown.
“It’s not easy sitting out, you add up the fact that you sat out a year because you transferred, then you’re ready to play and worked hard all summer, and you’re in here working hard at the beginning of school and doing individuals and then you’re doing your part to get yourself ready and then something like that happens. It’s frustrating more than anything,” Auriemma said of Butler.
With Butler out, plenty of players will be relied on to fill the void, including freshmen forwards Napheesa Collier and De’Janae Boykin. Collier has done well in practice so far, while Boykin has just recently began practicing as she comes back from multiple injuries suffered during her senior season of high school.
Katie Lou Samuelson rounds out the Huskies’ freshmen class and comes to UConn as the No. 1 recruit in the country. The 6-foot-3-inch Samuelson is an elite three-point shooter and should help alleviate the loss of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished her career as the NCAA all-time leader in three-pointers made.
The three also had experience playing with one another prior to stepping on campus, winning a gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. With some chemistry between them and the first few weeks of practice at the college level under their belts, the trio should be able to make a significant impact against the Lady Chaps.
“De’Janae hasn’t had a chance to practice much, she’s been out here maybe four or five times now, and everyday she’s getting a little bit better,” Auriemma said. “The other two [Collier and Samuelson] are pretty good, they know how to play.”