Basketball. Is. Back! It’s the best time of the year in Storrs, as the 11-time national champions, 12-straight final-four appearing and six-straight American Athletic Conference champions are back on the court.
Sure, these games don’t count yet, but they will soon, so what better way is there to get back in the basketball mood than by watching the Huskies beat up a Division II team! I mean, I guess there’s a chance that the Rams win, but come on, UConn rarely loses to the top Division I teams, so a DII team shouldn’t even be a challenge.
On Wednesday, the Huskies were picked No. 5 in the country in the AP Top 25, with 1-4 consisting of Oregon, Baylor, Stanford and Maryland in that order. UConn will face two of those teams this season and will be home for each game, first against Baylor at the XL Center in Hartford on Jan. 9, and then against Oregon in Storrs on Feb. 3.
“We have the kind of schedule that’s exciting, it’s tough, it’s challenging, the one bright spot is they’re home, so there’s a lot of excitement in a lot of ways,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “But there’s also a lot of nervousness. There’s times when you have to make sure you build the players up, then you go to practice and you have to temper their expectations when they go ‘Yeah, we’ve got this.’”
As for the Coaches Poll, UConn was picked No. 4, swapping places with Maryland. In regards to their conference opponents, no other team from the American made the top 25 in either poll. USF received minimal votes in both polls, and UCF appeared in the bottom of the list in the Coaches Poll.
The Huskies are missing two of their top players from last season with the departure of Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, so one thing to look for in this game is who’s going to step into their role.
“The interesting thing about when this happens [impact seniors graduating], you can see that in a lot of kids’ minds last year, I’ll bet you, you start every game and you go, ‘Phee’s got 20, Lou’s got 20, so that’s 40. Where are we going to fill in to get the other 40?’” Auriemma said. “Now with that 40 points gone, I’ll bet you all those guys went ‘I could have got 20 any time I felt like it last night if I had just got more opportunities.’ And you kind of smile because now they get all the opportunities they want and they realize ‘Man, it’s hard as hell to do what Phee and Lou did.’ It looks easy because they made it look easy, but it’s hard.”
However, Auriemma said that it doesn’t need to be someone completely taking over that role and dropping 20 on any given night.
“The good thing about it is they’re finding out that not one person has to be superstar material, they just have to rely on each other and be really, really good as a team,” Auriemma said.
Guards Crystal Dangerfield and Christyn Williams are likely to be the primary ball-handlers out of the gate, and forwards Megan Walker and Olivia Nelson-Ododa will have the frontcourt duties.
The Huskies will have their second and final exhibition on Wednesday, Nov. 6, against Trevecca Nazarene University, and start their regular season on the following Sunday against Cal.
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31.