I think it’s safe to say the Huskies are ready for the regular season. UConn beat Trevecca Nazarene in its second and final exhibition game of the preseason by a score of 99-54.
The Huskies got out to a 74-29 lead at halftime with both Megan Walker and Aubrey Griffin shooting flawlessly from the field, the former going 7-7 and the latter 5-5. Walker finished the game with an impressive statline, shooting 11-12 with 28 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
“She has a lot of energy and she’s in great shape. Physically she looks great and her energy level is great,” Auriemma said about Walker. “She’s confident with the ball in her hands.”
Crystal Dangerfield also turned in a great game, shooting 7-14 with 17 points, three assists and four steals.
“With Crystal and Megan, we have two pretty good players. I would expect that we’re going to have to see that every night from them,” Auriemma said.
Since this was an exhibition game, Auriemma tried some lineups that we won’t typically see during the regular season as practice for certain situations. For example, Auriemma wanted to see how his offense can operate in the halfcourt without Dangerfield on the floor, so he held her out for most of the second half.
“When you have somewhat of an inexperienced, young team, they can play really well when they just go up and down the court,” Auriemma said. “When Crystal’s not in the game, we’re not good at the half court, grind it out game yet. We tried that in the second half, and didn’t have a lot of success with it.”
Trevecca Nazarene, a Division II school, actually won the third quarter 17-14. Though UConn drastically slowed its pace down and sat Dangerfield and Olivia Nelson-Ododa for about half the period, for the first time through the two exhibition games it looked like both teams belonged on the court together. This isn’t a good sign for the Huskies.
Auriemma mentioned after the exhibition with Jefferson University that he’s coached some great defensive teams in his storied past, but “this ain’t one of them.”
When Nelson-Ododa is off the floor, UConn’s defense gets much worse. To see what the defense looked like without her out there, Auriemma only played Nelson-Ododa eight minutes in the second half. When asked what the team is going to do if she gets in foul trouble, Auriemma said, “there’s a good chance we’re going to lose.”
“It’s imperative that we come up with ways that Olivia doesn’t foul and stays in the game. She is someone who can make a huge difference at both ends of the floor, and there’s no going around that,” Auriemma said.
With the long reach of Nelson-Ododa protecting the paint for 23 minutes of the game, Travecca Nazarene was occasionally able to find space on the perimeter for mid-range jumpers and floaters. They were also able to hoist up 27 3-pointers, but only converted six of them (22.2 percent).
“We have some younger guys and new guys that don’t know where they should be,” Dangerfield said. “We need to get tips in the middle of the floor and out on the perimeter. Everywhere on the floor, we have to be out and making sure easy passes and shots aren’t happening.”
Playing defense on the perimeter will likely be UConn’s weakest area this season. This team has plenty of scoring and playmaking across the board, plus a phenomenal shot blocker and rebounder in Nelson-Ododa. Pressure will be on the 5-foot 5 Dangerfield and the 5-foot 11 Christyn Williams to close out on shooters and prevent penetration at the arc.
Griffin, a long and athletic freshman with a motor that never stops running, could provide a defensive spark for UConn off the bench this season.
“Defensive is very important. Coach always says to get in the passing lanes and to keep your hands up,” Griffin said.
She had three steals in 20 minutes of play.
UConn will take off the training wheels with this season’s first regular season game Sunday against California. The Golden Bears went 20-13 last season and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament by the eventual champions, the Baylor [regular] Bears.
That game will tip off Sunday at 1 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @seanjanos.