The UConn women’s basketball team is battle-tested. In the last game they played Sunday against UCF, some players may have received bruises, scratches and even some trash talk.
The Huskies remained focused on the game and tried not to let the chippy play from the Knights get to them. Crystal Dangerfield said that some of the trash talk made her laugh as she shrugged off some adjectives thrown their way.
Dangerfield said the team learned “how to respond to physical play. (UCF) tried to get a bit more aggressive in the second and third quarter and we went on a run. Coach (Auriemma) was proud of the way we responded to that.”
UConn (23-2, 11-0 AAC) will take on conference-foe Memphis (10-15, 5-7 AAC) for the first time this season in the final XL Center game this year. Right now, the Huskies’ main focus is on having the supporting cast feel comfortable around the big three of Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Dangerfield.
“Postseason play is not necessarily about your stars,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Postseason play is, ‘What are your other players going to do?’ Everybody has certain key players that pretty much are going to play well in the postseason, they generally do. What separates winners from losers is, what do some of the other players contribute that night.”
The two players that the team will need to help them as the season winds down are Christyn Williams and Megan Walker. Williams has come up big for the Huskies during the last two games, including a breakout performance against South Carolina.
“What I try to do with Christyn now as we get towards the end of the season, is to try to eliminate as much thinking as possible and just let her play to her instincts,” Auriemma said. “It’s been more of, ‘Every time you touch it, you need to attack the basket.’ ‘Every time you touch it, you have to be an offensive player, you have to be a scorer.’ ‘Why aren’t you getting more steals?’ ‘Why aren’t you getting more tips?’ So it’s all things that play into her aggressiveness.”
Williams’ aggressiveness in the previous two games has been on full display. She has attacked the rim and either finished or gotten fouled. Prior to this recent stretch, Williams seemed unsure of herself, but that is clearly not the case for her at this point of the season. When she was struggling to score, she focused on other facets of the game, especially defense, and she said it has made her a well-rounded player.
“The first half of the last game, I didn’t score any points, but I got rebounds early on,” Williams said. “So, I feel like I’ve grown in that aspect because if I’m not scoring, I would like to contribute in other ways. I still continue to work on that, but hopefully, I can put some points on the board, too.”
Walker, who is another key to the starting lineup, has been extremely efficient. In fact, she leads the team in 3-point field goal percentage (45 percent). The sophomore has always been a highly-touted scorer, but this season Auriemma said she has focused on a way to get better offensively.
“She always could score,” Auriemma said of Walker. “That was always a big deal. She was a streaky shooter. There were times when all of them would go in and then there were times when she would struggle with it. During this offseason, she spent a lot of time on (3-point shooting).”
Collier, who has been the phenom for the team, was named a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award that is given to the top power forward in the country. Right now, anyone would be hard-pressed to find a better player at any position.
Dangerfield said Collier’s dominance has made the game easier by about, “100 percent. I say this to myself all the time. She makes it a lot easier; we probably lean on her a little bit too much. We are probably asking her to do a lot more than she should. But right now, I think she’s handled it great the whole season.”
The game against the Memphis Tigers will tip off in the XL Center at 7 p.m. It will be televised on SNY and ESPN 3, and the game can be heard 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.