It was expected, but it’s still encouraging to see UConn dominate their early-season exhibition like they do every year, especially with all the question marks surrounding this season.
UConn beat Jefferson 103-40, shot 53.8% from the field (to Jefferson’s 28.6%), grabbed 52 rebounds (22 board advantage), forced 28 turnovers (16 more than Jefferson) and overall just controlled the game like a team who is clearly more athletic and skilled should.
All five starters – Crystal Dangerfield, Christyn Williams, Anna Makurat, Megan Walker and Olivia Nelson-Ododa – played at least 20 minutes, and Walker led the team in scoring with 28 points on 10-15 shooting.
One of the biggest impact players was Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who came incredibly close to a 5×5 with 16 points (7-9 from the field), 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks and 4 steals while playing the fewest minutes of any starter. Head coach Geno Auriemma reiterated how important she will be to the team’s success this season.
“It’s going to be unbelievably important for us to keep her out of foul trouble,” Auriemma said. “I would probably say Liv is the most important player on our team right now. She’s the only one that you can’t replace no matter what. The other guys are hard to replace but she’s impossible to replace.”
While her dominance on both ends of the floor is certainly a good thing, it is a bit concerning how much she had to be counted on in the post during a game against a Division II team.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Auriemma said. “When your big guy has to block a lot of shots, that means a lot of guys got beat. So it’s good to have her back there because she’s long enough that she can affect shots, and she’s gotten a lot better at knowing when to and how to, so now, we don’t want to put her in that situation 30 times a game where she has to save us from a layup.”
The defensive inconsistencies, while they might not necessarily show on the box score, are something that Auriemma expects to continue and follow them throughout the season.
“We knew going into the season that we can’t be a good defensive team,” Auriemma said. “It’s not possible. I mean, it’s just not. So we’re going to have to get a little bit creative, but we don’t have the pieces to be a really good defensive team this year. I think we need to get better, but I don’t know that we’ll ever reach a great defensive team. I’ve had some of those, this ain’t one of them.”
This isn’t the same UConn team as in previous years. While still one of the best in the country, there’s a reason that they were picked No. 5 in the AP preseason poll and not the usual No. 1. It’s like the teams that had talent like Breanna Steward, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (both of whom were in attendance Sunday), Morgan Tuck and Stefanie Dolson (I could list the whole roster but you get the point) all sharing the same court. Games are going to be a little bit closer and wins are going to be a little bit harder to come by.
However, most importantly, this is the first time in a long time that you can’t already pencil them into a Final Four berth. However, that might be a good thing.
“We [women’s college basketball as a whole] were accused for a number of years of it being the same teams all the time,” Auriemma said. “We were on the verge of becoming college football, so it’s good that there’s new faces up there. Now, did a lot of those faces show up because the people that were already there backed up, or because they got really, really good? I think it’s a combination of the two. But that’s usually what has to happen. So the fact that you can’t sit here right now and go ‘here’s the Final Four,’ I think that’s a good thing.”
Are they still going to win the American? No doubt about it. Are they still going to be a 1 or 2 seed in the tournament? Highly likely.
But there’s a chance they lose a couple along the way. This team isn’t going to start a 100-plus game winning streak like the one that ended last season. They’re going to have to fight tooth and nail for their wins when they play teams like Baylor and Oregon during the regular season, and come tourney time, these Huskies are going to have pull their sled uphill instead of the downhill this program is accustomed to.
But, as Geno said, that might be a good thing.
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at Jorge.email@example.com. He tweets @jorge_eckardt31