Basketball season is officially back in Storrs. The UConn women’s basketball team was back to their dominating ways against Vanguard — a NAIA Division 1 team. While the score was 96 – 30 there were five important takeaways from the contest.
Scoring comes naturally
The senior duo of Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier picked up right where they left off last season. They each scored 26 points, while Samuelson scored the first 11 points of the second half before she dumped the ball to Collier in the post, who scored an easy layup.
As a unit, the team shot 52.7 percent and 27.3 percent from 3-point land. Collier was able to score in the low post with ease. Her footwork and knowledge of where she is in the vicinity of the hoop, is unlike any other.
“The three players (who) I expect the most from, Lou and Pheesa and Crystal (Dangerfield), were completely in charge of what was going on,” head coach Geno Auriemma said.
Freshmen make their debut
The No. 1 recruit (Christyn Williams) and the No. 5 recruit (Olivia Nelson-Ododa) in the country made their highly-anticipated debut. Williams got the start and scored the first basket of the game just seven seconds into the contest. This allowed her to shake off some nerves.
“I was really nervous,” Williams said. “I was really nervous, but after (scoring), I guess I didn’t have the jitters anymore. I felt pretty comfortable.”
Williams played aggressive, just like her teammates said she has during practice. It was quite clear Sunday afternoon that Williams has the respect of her teammates.
“That’s definitely the Christyn we’ve been seeing all through the summer and preseason,” Collier said. “And I’m sure it’s a bit of weight off her shoulders.”
Nelson-Ododa made her debut in the first half for the Huskies. She played a total of just over 20 minutes, but her size was felt on the court. The freshman finished with five points and 11 rebounds.
“(Nelson-Ododa) was active,” Auriemma said. “She’s going to get a lot better, a lot better. And like Shea (Ralph) or CD (Chris Dailey) said, ‘she better get a lot better, fast.’ Because we are going to need her sooner rather than later.”
Crystal Dangerfield is ready for the next leap
The junior point guard played a steady game for UConn. There were no specific stats that jumped off the page, but she was a constant that the Huskies could rely on throughout the game.
She led the team in assists (eight) to go along with a steal and seven points. The Huskies will need Dangerfield to lead the team’s passing attack, which has been a strength for years.
Auriemma said that Samuelson and Dangerfield are the team’s top passers, while mentioning with a smile on his face that the team is looking to cut down on turnovers by having the first person with the ball, shoot. The Huskies finished with a total of 23 assists.
“It’s one thing we’ve never had a problem with, is passing,” Auriemma said. “I think we are going to get even better at it as we move along in the season.”
The search for reliable depth is underway
Despite the starters looking sharp, the second unit struggled. Vanguard was able to outscore UConn 15-9 with the Huskies’ starters on the bench. Auriemma said that there is a big gap between the first and second unit, but it is too early to make assumptions.
“Any one of our players coming off the bench has to feel like they can contribute something because we are going to need them at some point,” Auriemma said.
Batouly Camara provided the Huskies with some rebounding in her brief time out on the court. She was able to score six points and snatch three rebounds in six minutes.
Megan Walker will need to continue her growth in the rebounding department as the season progresses. As a starter she had 12 rebounds and 11 points. Collier said that Walker’s rebounding is a necessity for the team.
“It’s really important because it’s going to be really hard if I’m the only one rebounding,” Collier said. “So, it really is a team effort. We need everyone to crash the boards because we are not as big as we have been in the past.”
It’s only an exhibition game
While it is easy to expect that the Huskies will demolish pretty much all of their competition, it is important to realize that this is only an exhibition game. Auriemma said that he is not focused on the score, but how the team looked and felt.
The starting five looked sharp, but the team will need to find another player or two who can produce off the bench. The two players with the most time off the bench were Nelson-Ododa and Mikayla Coombs. Each of them showed flashes, but the team will need them to continue to progress.
“Megan and Christyn did what they, for the most part, what they have been doing in practice every day,” Auriemma said. “So, that’s nothing new. The rest is to be determined.”
Next week the Huskies will begin their season with a game against Ohio State at noon in Gampel Pavilion. Auriemma said that will be the time to better gauge what the team can be.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.