As someone who has religiously followed UConn women’s basketball for a couple years now, it’s the time of year when no matter where I go I will inevitably be asked how I think the team will do this year.
Let me start this off by saying that all of my thoughts are super preliminary. There haven’t even been exhibition games yet, so it’s hard to say exactly what the team will look like. However, I still have my early opinions and premonitions.
First, it’s important to look at what UConn lost from last season. Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams and Azurá Stevens graduated and were drafted into the WNBA. Defensively, Williams was a huge player. She was extremely athletic and, by her senior year, understood how to use her body and energy level to her advantage. While Nurse’s play didn’t jump off the stats page, she was an important leader for the team. The times when she was on the bench, the team seemed more frenzied and less in tempo. Stevens provided a taller body in the paint that could block shots and rebound.
While Williams, Nurse and Stevens may have graduated, the two important pieces from last season are still in Storrs.
Katie Lou Samuelson, a two-time AP First Team All-American and a two-time WBCA Coaches All American, is back for her senior year.
Samuelson provides the bulk of the scoring for the team. It will be interesting to watch if she has upped her defensive game to fully round out her basketball skills and make herself a killer player.
Napheesa Collier is also back for her senior year. Collier was a 2017 First Team All-American and a two-time member of the American Athletic Conference First Team. She averaged 16.1 points per game last season. Collier is dangerous because of her ability to constantly understand where the basket is in relation to where she is. It is almost a guarantee that if she is in the paint, she will score.
Crystal Dangerfield will need to step up big this season. Legendary UConn teams from years past all had one very important thing in common: they had stellar point guards. Whether it was Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Renee Montgomery or Moriah Jefferson, point guards have helped to propel championship-caliber teams forward.
Dangerfield’s game bears most resemblance to Jefferson, a Nancy Lieberman Award Winner and a four-time National Champion. If Dangerfield is able to stay consistent and active this season, she will not only shine but also help the team tremendously.
So, three players are sure to be on Geno Auriemma’s starting five. What about the other two slots? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it’s honestly hard to say who Geno will employ. It is certainly possible that he will mix it up at first to find the best matches. The rest of the team is relatively young and lacks massive playing time. A logical option would be Megan Walker. Walker was ranked the No. 1 recruit from the class of 2017 by ESPN and averaged 5.8 points per game last season. Could more playing time increase her potential for success?
The two new freshmen Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Adoda have reportedly been doing well in practices so far. Williams was ranked the No. 1 recruit from the class of 2018 by ESPN and Nelson-Adoda was ranked the fifth. Nelson-Adoda is 6-4 and a strong presence to put in the paint.
A big determinant in UConn’s success this season will be their competition. The team will have some heavy competition in the regular season this year. They will be playing Ohio State, Baylor, Notre Dame, Louisville and South Carolina. Mississippi State will also be an important team to watch from afar in case the Huskies see them come tournament time. Head coach Vic Schaefer has created a culture of winning for the Bulldogs. They are not afraid of UConn.
UConn is vulnerable this year because they have shown that they are no longer invincible. It will take teamwork and a blind eye to nay-sayers for the team to bounce back to championship glory.
So, do I think UConn basketball will still dominate? Yes. They will be fine in their conference, but the real tests will be out-of-conference opponents who will prepare them for what to expect come tournament time. It will be important for UConn’s well-known team mentality to take hold. This team is inexperienced and on wobbly legs, but it’s not an impossible task for a championship to come back to Storrs.
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.