The UConn women’s basketball team had to say goodbye to two of the greatest players to ever wear a Husky uniform: Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier. The duo combined for the most points (4,743) by a pair of classmates in team history. But, there is still plenty of talent on the team.
In her freshman season, Christyn Williams proved that she can play college basketball at a high level. The former No. 1 recruit out of high school averaged 11.7 points per game and demonstrated her knack for blowing past the defender and finishing around the hoop.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma has said several times that the biggest leap for players generally happens during their sophomore season. Williams should be no different. The 5-foot-11 guard went through a freshman wall from mid-January until about the beginning of February. She finally broke out of the funk and played well during The American Athletic Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
“This season has taught me that it takes a lot to get (to the Final Four) and it takes even more to get to the championship,” Williams said following the Final Four loss to Notre Dame.
While breaking into college basketball is hard enough, doing it as a forward makes it even more difficult because of the physicality of players in the paint. The 6-foot-4 freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa was thrown into the fire because the Huskies craved a player with size.
Nelson-Ododa struggled a bit in the beginning of the season with foul trouble and establishing a physical presence in the post. By the end of the season, Nelson-Ododa was able to limit the fouls and become a fierce rim protector. Even though she played about 750 minutes less than Napheesa Collier, who led the team with 64 blocks, Nelson-Ododa finished the season with 54 blocks.
There is no doubt that the coaching staff will continue to work with Nelson-Ododa, and it is reasonable to expect her to have the biggest improvement next season. She will likely find herself in a starting position heading into her sophomore year.
Nelson-Ododa said that her experiences this year made her crave more success next season.
“As a team, for next year moving forward, (losing in the Final Four) is just motivation to get back in the same position next year,” Nelson-Ododa said. “That’s our goal.”
The Huskies will also have Megan Walker back in a starting role next year. As a first-time starter in her sophomore year, Walker showed her ability to knock down 3-pointers, leading the team with about a 40 percent percentage from beyond the arc.
The 6-foot-1 guard was the team’s second best rebounder, averaging 6.7 per game. With Collier going to the WNBA, Walker will have to continue to improve as a rebounder.
Crystal Dangerfield will likely be the lone senior in the starting lineup. The point guard was phenomenal this season at running the team’s offense and defending the opposing team’s best guard.
During the Sweet 16 against UCLA, Dangerfield hit clutch shot after clutch shot to secure the 69-61 win. Just two days later, Dangerfield would go on to make life difficult for Louisville’s offensive juggernaut Asia Durr.
UConn will welcome incoming freshman Aubrey Griffin. The No. 33 overall recruit is a 6-foot-1 wing who is athletic on the perimeter, can defend well and creates her own shot, according to ESPN’s scouting report.
The starting lineup will likely consist of Dangerfield, Williams, Walker, Nelson-Ododa, and most likely, Griffin. There will be competition for not only the starting jobs, but also for significant roles off the bench. Competition is rarely a bad thing. Having these young players experience a Final Four loss, as well as fighting for the opportunity to receive a larger role, should make everyone better.
The 2019-2020 season will not be a cake walk, but this is still UConn and they should be just fine.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.