The UConn women’s basketball team will make their 2019 debut Thursday night in Waco against Kim Mulkey’s Baylor squad. The Huskies have a perfect record, coming off back-to-back hard fought wins against Oklahoma and California, respectively. The team’s focus is on limiting Baylor’s rebounding prowess.
“It’s probably a unique challenge for anybody in the country when you think about the size that they have,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said in an interview posted by the UConn Blog. “And the combination of the size and the quickness in their guards.”
The Huskies (11-0) will play their third game in about 15 days. Auriemma has said that the team has benefitted from the time off to focus on other things besides basketball, including final exams. Not to mention, the team is just about fully healthy.
Baylor (9-1) has two wins over ranked opponents this season, against Arizona State and South Carolina, but fell to No. 11 Stanford on Dec. 15. In the win against South Carolina, senior Kalani Brown had one of her best games of the season, scoring 22 points and reeling in nine rebounds. At 6-foot-7, Brown presents a size advantage against UConn, whose tallest player stands at 6-foot-4 (Olivia Nelson-Ododa).
“We have some mismatches with them size wise and how aggressive they are,” Katie Lou Samuelson said of Baylor. “It’s going to be a real test for us and it’s going to show us where we’re at with being able to handle pressure and handle teams that aren’t necessarily the same as us.”
Brown’s phenomenal game against South Carolina was not just an aberration. The forward is leading the team in points (14.8) and field goal percentage (.614) to go along with 6.8 rebounds per game.
During the Bears 68-63 loss to Stanford, Brown struggled. The senior scored just five points on 2-7 shooting. Guard Chloe Jackson fought vehemently in the tightly-contested matchup, scoring 15 points and dishing three assists.
For the Huskies, Samuelson, Megan Walker and Napheesa Collier will have to battle down low against the bigger Baylor Bears. Collier is the team’s leading rebounder with 10.5, but Samuelson has vastly improved her rebounding over the course of the season. The sharpshooter is averaging 7.8 rebounds on the season, including grabbing 16 against Seton Hall.
Samuelson said that the team is ready to help Collier battle for rebounds against Baylor.
“If she is struggling, we are going to be there to pick her up and make sure that we have her back no matter what,” Samuelson said. “Because this is probably the toughest (frontcourt) she’s faced all year and we have to be there to help her out whenever we can.”
Walker will play a key role down low Thursday night as well. The sophomore is averaging 5.9 rebounds per game, but Auriemma has said that he expects her rebounding totals to trend upward.
Junior point guard Crystal Dangerfield has excelled in her role as the team’s floor general and she continues to get better with each game. Dangerfield is averaging 13.8 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point land.
Dangerfield said her job as a guard is to harass Baylor in order to get them fatigued, making it harder for the opponent to attack the boards.
“It’s going to be important for the guards to pressure and get down and help,” Dangerfield said. “But it’s also going to be our job to run them. If we can get them tired and get them subbed out, it’s going to be easier.”
The game will be broadcast at 9:00 p.m. on ESPN and the UConn/IMG Radio Network.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.