The first four starting spots for the UConn women’s basketball team are a lock. Crystal Dangerfield, Christyn Williams, Megan Walker and Olivia Nelson-Ododa are and will remain starters all season barring injury, and there’s not much they can do to lose that spot.
However, spot No. 5 is a toss-up, and two freshmen, Anna Makurat and Aubrey Griffin, are the two clear frontrunners heading into the regular season.
“I say this a lot about freshmen, what you see today is the worse they’re ever gonna look,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “They’re only going to get better, hopefully.”
Makurat started both of the exhibition games, and she played well, exhibiting a confidence and toughness you don’t always see from freshmen. While her overall play was solid, she was somewhat underwhelming when it came to her shooting touch — a facet of her game that is supposed to be one of her core strengths (though she has a lot of them). Through the two games, she went just six for 18 from the field, including two for 10 from three. She has grabbed 14 boards through the two games, which trails only Nelson-Ododa, but also turned the ball over six times, the most on the team.
“I’ve said it since day one and I’m saying it again, she’s a pro,” senior guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “Right now she’s struggling with her shot so we’re having to stay in her ear and [say] ‘keep shooting,’ but also realizing there’s other things she can do to help our team and she’s starting to come around and do that too.”
Then there’s Griffin, who, while she didn’t get the starting nod, has played very well in a decent amount of minutes for the Huskies. Through the two exhibitions, Griffin has shot 9-13 from the field and was a perfect 5-5 on Wednesday — and she is yet to attempt a three-pointer, something that can only be said about Nelson-Ododa as well. She has grabbed a respectable nine boards through the two games and shown a willingness to relentlessly follow her own shot and get the second-chance opportunities. In her 20 minutes of play Wednesday, she turned the ball over four times, which was the most on the team.
“There’s not a lot of words to describe her,” senior guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “What you’re seeing from her, other people on our team can’t do. That’s special to have as a freshman.”
While both are listed as 6-foot-1 guards, their playstyles are very different. Makurat is a shooter, and she has already shown a confidence to hoist up shots whenever she gets space, attempting the most threes on the team so far.
Griffin is more of a slasher. She’s long, she’s quick, she’s uber-athletic and she can just do stuff on the court that not many players on this team can.
“She’s really, really good at what she’s good at, which is play pretty good defense, be a factor in transition she’s really good, offensive rebounding she’s really good, she made a couple really good plays today passing the ball,” Auriemma said.
Griffin and Makurat have both gone through the normal growing pains freshmen go through, Auriemma said. But he said what helps with that is that both players know they are good, and not only that, but they know that he likes them, which he says goes a long way.
“When they’re good, both of them, they’re really, really good,” Auriemma said. “When they’re not so good, I think they make up for it by doing some other things. Time will tell; I’m excited for them.”
Both players will undoubtedly play a large role for this season’s Huskies squad, and no matter who starts, they’re going to have to be contributors when UConn plays some of its tougher competition.
In recent years, only Dangerfield has played sizeable minutes as a freshman, but this season, they are on track to have two of them do just that. While these two games have been a nice sample of what this season is going to look like, it’s going to get much harder than playing Division II schools, and it’s going to be a different test for the freshmen.
“They haven’t been shy about either attacking the rim or taking shots or anything like that,” Dangerfield said. “But when (we) get into our tougher games and things like that, they’re gonna have to play under pressure, so we’re starting that in practice now and we’re gonna see how they handle that.”
The team may have hung 99 on Trevecca Nazarene tonight, but come Sunday against Cal, we’ll see what these freshmen are truly made of.
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