Late Sunday afternoon, the two premiere teams of The American Athletic Conference will square off. With UCF’s strength coming underneath the basket, the pressure will be on UConn’s frontcourt to battle in the post.
As a team, the Knights (17-2, 6-0 AAC) out rebound their opponents 38-34. Guard Nyala Shuler is the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 7.7 per game. UCF has size with three players who stand at 6-foot-3. While UConn will certainly focus on rebounding, it will not have to worry as much about UCF’s 3-point shooting, as the Knights are seventh in the conference for 3-point shooting percentage.
However, Kay Kay Wright is a force on the offensive end. The junior is averaging 18.7 points per game and 4.2 rebounds. Wright is their most effective shooter from 3-point land, hitting on nearly 40 percent of her attempts.
After the game against the Mustangs, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said that his one concern for his team is that they are not the best rebounders and he anticipates a physical matchup with the Knights.
“That’s the one area that I worry about,” Auriemma said of the team’s rebounding. “So, we’ll keep working on it and hopefully it will be something we can use along the way. Sunday we are playing a team that really rebounds the hell out of the ball. So, we are really going to be tested.”
Since UCF’s leading rebounder is a guard, Crystal Dangerfield and Christyn Williams will have to work to keep Shuler on the perimeter and tiring her out as they did with the full-court press Wednesday night. Williams has the speed, athleticism and enough size to rebound the ball as well and she will likely be the team’s X-factor against UCF.
No. 3 UConn (17-1, 6-0 AAC) currently has the top scoring offense and defense in the conference. Throughout the season, UConn has held its opponents to 50 points or less eight times, with the lowest point total given up to Tulane (33).
Senior Napheesa Collier has been the epitome of consistency throughout her career at UConn. She is the team’s leading rebounder, averaging a career-high 10.1 per game, and is only 11 rebounds away from 1,000 in a Husky uniform. Collier also played the role of Dikembe Mutombo Wednesday night, swatting away six shots underneath the basket.
Katie Lou Samuelson has been able to rebound the ball effectively this season, with a career-high average of 7.3 per game. Samuelson is coming off a stellar game against a floundering SMU team, scoring 21 points, five assists and four rebounds, while playing a key role in the team’s full-court press that helped force 24 turnovers.
Freshman Christyn Williams did not have a spectacular game, but she was more than effective for UConn. In the midst of a scoring drought, Williams was able to score 12 points and steal the basketball three times. Again, her stats did not leap off the score sheet, but it was a step in the right direction.
“Just continue to be aggressive offensively and defensively,” Williams said on what her focuses are. “And just always continue to work hard no matter what I’m doing. Also, to move without the ball, I struggle with that a little bit because I like to score.”
Williams is still going through the learning curve of being effective without necessarily scoring, which she has proven that she can do. Samuelson said prior to the game against SMU that Williams has been working hard to get out of her slow streak.
“(Williams) came in and she really shot off to a great start and then you know, you get in that freshman funk,” Samuelson said. “So, she’s having to work her way back into what she was doing before and she is doing it in practice. She is really trying to fight and show every day that she can do something for us and it doesn’t have to be scoring.”
The Huskies are still looking for someone to step up on the bench. Olivia Nelson-Ododa played 10 minutes off the bench and although she did not score the ball, she had three monstrous blocks. Assistant coach Shea Ralph said that Nelson-Ododa must play the game with a viciousness to it.
“Physically for Olivia, it’s going to take longer than March,” Ralph said. “But mentally, she could adapt quickly. I mean quicker than she has. She needs to get stronger, she’s just, you know, she’s tall and thin and she doesn’t have a whole lot of muscle to her. But if she gets a little meaner between now and March, then we can kind of cover up that strength that she doesn’t have yet.”
The game will be played at the XL Center Sunday at 4 p.m. If you cannot make it to the arena, the game will be broadcasted on ESPN 2 and through the airwaves on 97.9 ESPN radio.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.