The UConn women’s basketball team hosted Vanguard University Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be a lopsided exhibition affair. Although the game does not count toward the team’s overall record for the season, Gampel Pavilion welcomed just over 8,000 UConn faithful for the event that saw the Huskies overwhelm the Lions 96-30.
The game got off to a quick start when newcomer Christyn Williams took the opening tip for a layup just six seconds into the game. Williams and Megan Walker were the newest faces in UConn’s starting five that returns Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield. Head coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with how his starters performed, not even mentioning Samuelson and Collier scoring 26 points each.
“Every exhibition game is the same,” Auriemma said. “You’re going to play a team you’re going to beat by a lot so you can’t go by the final score, so you try to go by ‘How did it look? What was the feel of it?’ and those first five, six, seven minutes — considering it was the first time out — a lot of good stuff was happening.”
Auriemma said the team’s newest starters played the way they practice, leading to no surprises in their performances on Sunday. Walker finished the afternoon with 11 points and 12 rebounds but had trouble finding her shot as she went 4-of-10 from the floor and 0-of-2 from beyond the arc. Williams scored 10 points, shot 2-of-5 from deep and corralled five rebounds in her debut.
Rebounding remains an ‘‘angst’’ for Auriemma and his coaching staff and while he was pleased with Walker’s team-best 12 boards, it is something he expects game-in and game-out.
“What you find out, some people… ‘work on it,’ they gravitate to what they’re good at and [Walker] is good at go get the ball. Again, that’s always been a source of angst for us coaches is our rebounding. We know [Collier] is gonna rebound and that’s not enough. Megan has to understand that that shouldn’t be something we celebrate. That’s going to be something that we expect her to do because she can,” Auriemma said.
Samuelson also crashed the boards more consistently in the absence of graduated Gabby Williams, something she said she’s been focused on improving.
“I think I’m just trying to do more stuff this year,” Samuelson said. “We lost a really big rebounder for us and I’ve been trying to do it more in practice and just be more of an all-around player for this team.”
While Auriemma’s “Core Three” filled the stat sheet the way they are expected to, Sunday’s game offered a glimpse into how the three would embrace their new leadership roles. While it may be out of necessity, he’s seen a lot of growth in how they talk with the newest members of the team, something they will need as the season progresses, according to Auriemma.
“I think the three of them, in their own ways, they’re becoming much more vocal than they’ve ever been,” Auriemma said. “Obviously a big part of it is out of necessity. If they don’t do it, it’s not going to get done. So there were some things today that were really encouraging in that respect.”
“We’ve both been trying to be consistent every single day so that people can count on us always and always when things are going wrong we’re the two that want to try to step up and do something that will kind of calm the team down but I try to be as vocal as I can,” Samuelson said on the new leadership dynamic. “[Collier] does a lot of action things to show that she’s a leader. We compliment each other pretty well and I think we both step up as much as we can.”
One area of concern with this year’s group may be the players we don’t tend to talk about as much. Once the starters made their way to the bench for the reserves to play, the game’s dynamic shifted as UConn was outscored 15-9 in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve been saying for two years now or however long I’ve been saying it, that we’ve got a big gap between a certain group that we play and the next group,” Auriemma said. “It’s too early in the sason to make any assumptions but that second group, anybody coming off the bench let’s put it that way, anyone of our players coming off the bench has to feel like they can contribute something [because] we’re going to need them at some point.”
The team will officially begin their season next Sunday, Nov. 11, when they welcome Ohio State to Gampel pavilion for a noon start. The first true test on the Huskies’ schedule will offer a better look at what to expect from this year’s squad going forward.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.