Basketball season is back in Storrs. UConn’s annual First Night took place Friday night at Gampel Pavilion and was filled with its usual fanfare. Vance Jackson and Gabby Williams took home the skills competition title, and the group featuring Natalie Butler and Terry Larrier took home the shooting stars contest crown. Sophomore Steven Enoch won the dunk contest before the main event, where Team Geno defeated Team Kevin 51-45 in the scrimmage game. Freshman Christian Vital led all scorers with nine points.
The Daily Campus basketball beat writers took turns reflecting on their favorite First Night moments.
Who had the best moment/performance of First Night?
Tyler Keating: Enoch was a late entrant to the men’s dunk contest, but became the runaway winner after throwing down an impressive through-the-legs dunk from the left side. For a guy that stands 6-foot-11 and weighs 258 pounds, that’s not easy. Enoch then followed up on his slam with eight points and four boards in the scrimmage game, so you could say he had a good night.
Matt Kren: Put the competitions and the scrimmage aside, the most memorable moment of the night was the introductions of the players and having them come out to the roaring ovation of the Gampel crowd. Coming out to a full arena, junior Kia Nurse dominated the spotlight as she came out whipping her hair to Willow Smith’s famous 2010 pop song, grabbing the title for best dance moves of the night.
Dan Madigan: Crystal Dangerfield certainly lived up the hype as one of the best recruits the women’s team has brought in over the last few years. Her vicious crossover spun fellow freshman Molly Bent nearly completely around, and showed UConn fans a sample of her speed and quickness. She’s got a long way to go before she lives up to the legacy Moriah Jefferson left at UConn, but it’s impossible not to make the comparison due to their size, quickness and ball-handling skills.
Stephanie Sheehan: In between the events and festivities, it came to no one’s surprise that the players entertained themselves by draining threes and throwing down dunks. Freshman Alterique Gilbert, standing at 6-feet, took this as a chance to dunk over teammate Mike Noyes, also 6-feet tall. While he missed both dunks, it was still a joy to watch. He also had some pretty sweet passes during the scrimmage, so he’s clearly got a lot of tricks up his sleeve.
Keating: I love watching the skills challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend to see which players are really going for the title, and the event at First Night was no different. Some players Friday night were going at 100 miles per hour, and that brought an energy that we didn’t usually see on this night of celebration. Also, Bent and Noyes almost brought home the title.
Kren: One of the lesser known events of the night, the shooting stars competition, turned out to be the best of the night as Larrier, Butler and a UConn student cruised through the event in dominating fashion. Larrier drained the half-court shot to give his team the win in a fun competition that started the night out on the right foot.
Madigan: Enoch’s performance almost single-handedly saved the dunk contest. He made his between-the-legs dunk, one of the most difficult attempts of the night, look nearly effortless. It was a perfect way to showcase his NBA-level size and overall athletic ability.
Sheehan: The scrimmage was by far the most fast-paced event of the night, and it was such a joy to watch the men not only play against themselves, but to see them team up with the women’s squad. Although it was obvious that nobody was going to give it their all, they still tried to show each other up. The men’s team also pretty much turned the scrimmage into a glorified dunk contest, and it was honestly 100 times better than the actual dunk contest.
Which new face was the most impressive?
Keating: Vital stuffed the stat sheet during the scrimmage game, scoring nine points on 3-for-5 shooting along with five assists. OK, so scrimmage game statistics don’t mean all that much, but with six new players on the team it’s hard to stand out. By both getting buckets and racking up helpers, Vital made his case on the court Friday night.
Kren: The most impressive freshman performance of the night came from Dangerfield as she was 1-1 from three and displayed some of the quickest handles on the court. Seeing her speed crossed with her dribbling ability up close definitely lived up to the preseason hype as she will be threat on every offensive possession this season.
Madigan: It might not have been flashy, but Bent put together a solid performance in her UConn debut. She showed great ball-handling skills and vision with a multitude of assists throughout the scrimmage, and should be able to contribute nearly immediately off the bench. Geno has talked highly of her already, and reminds me a lot of former point guard Kelly Faris.
Sheehan: Vance Jackson racked up seven points and grabbed two rebounds in the scrimmage, displaying some good instincts and proving that he will indeed be a pure shooter. With Daniel Hamilton gone, it will be exciting to see what Jackson does in a real game situation; but for now, seeing him get some buckets in tonight’s scrimmage was a good preview of what’s to come.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.