The UConn women’s basketball team was off to the races right from the get-go, causing 16 turnovers in the first half of its Wednesday night matchup against SMU. With the team playing its first home game of the spring semester, the student section was packed and the team fed off the energy.
“It’s so fun when the students are there and they have the big ‘LOOOOUUU’ thing and the fatheads and they just bring so much more energy to it,” senior Napheesa Collier said. “We love when the students are there and it was a really great turnout. Like I always say, our fans are the best in the nation. So the support we get here is amazing and they make every game here really fun.”
UConn (17-1, 6-0 AAC) was able to hold SMU to a paltry 16 points in the opening half and translate those 16 turnovers into 22 points of its own. The main reason why SMU could not hold onto the ball was because UConn embraced the full-court press, making it extremely difficult for the Mustangs to get past half-court, let alone run its offense.
“We are trying to get ourselves some easy buckets, you know,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Try to get the game going a little bit quicker, create as many possessions as we can. I thought (the full-court press) worked out pretty well. I don’t know if it’s something you could do for forty minutes every single game against every single team. But I think there is a time and a place for it.”
The appropriate time and place was against the Mustangs, especially since its offense has not exactly been a juggernaut this season. Coming into the game, they averaged 55 points per game, but the Huskies relentless defense held them to only 39 points. The Mustangs’ leading scorer Alicia Froling scored her first points at the 6:37 mark in the second quarter, while only going 1-for-5 from the free throw line. The senior would go on to finish with 13 points and 13 rebounds during UConn’s 79-39 win.
Auriemma said his biggest concern with his team is rebounding. The biggest strength for SMU (7-12,1-5) is rebounding. Froling leads her team with nearly 11 rebounds per game. Coming into the game, as a team, the Mustangs out rebounded its opponents by seven. Despite UConn being able to effectively force a total of 24 turnovers, SMU was able to come away with 48 rebounds, primarily because they missed more shots.
With the Huskies being able to create a fast-tempo, junior point guard Crystal Dangerfield was able to flourish. The team’s transition offense was a thing of beauty, thanks to Dangerfield threading the needle with flashy no-look, behind-the-back and lead passes. Dangerfield, who came away with two steals, finished the contest with eight assists. Auriemma said if you ask Dangerfield, that is what she cares about the most.
“You know Crystal likes to see herself as someone who creates,” Auriemma said. “I think she’d rather create a basket for someone else than actually get a lot of buckets for herself. The more we can get Crystal in the open floor, the more we can get her attacking the defense before it gets set.”
Although it is hard to believe, 39 points is not the least amount given up by the Huskies defense this season. UConn held Cincinnati to 38 points and Tulane to 33 points. This season, UConn is holding opponents to 53 points per game, which puts the Huskies in the top-10 scoring defense in the nation.
“We play off of that kind of energy and it really gets our whole team going when we can play that aggressively,” senior Katie Lou Samuelson said of the team’s ability to create chaos defensively. “Because it has been something that we have been working on.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.