Dangerfield is everything that you want your point guard to be and more. Terrific ball-handler and playmaker who controls the pace of the game? Check. Laterally quick with active hands-on defense? You bet. Cash money from behind the arc? Certainly. A leader on the court? Definitely, and it’s going to be that last one that sets this season apart from the previous three. As the only senior in the starting lineup and as someone who is going to have the ball in her hands a whole lot, Dangerfield’s leadership ability will be put to the test this season. She’s on many watchlists, including the Wooden Award and Nancy Lieberman Award watchlists. It’s Crystal’s team this season, and I’m excited to see where she takes it.
Williams is the youngest returning starter, playing in over 30 minutes per game her freshman year, shooting just a hair under 50% from the field and 37% from three. She averaged 11.7 points, 2.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game as the fifth option on a much deeper Huskies squad, but now will be asked to take on a much larger role. As the stat line shows, she’s a scorer, pure and simple. But now, being thrust into a larger role as the third or even second option, her game has to evolve. Auriemma said that one of the most important things that she needs to do is find other ways to contribute when she doesn’t have the ball in her hands — including on the defensive end, a facet of the game that the team is expected to struggle with more than past Auriemma squads. She’s also on the Anne Meyers Drysdale Award watch list, an award given to the nation’s top shooting guard.
Makurat is the wild card. For a while, it wasn’t clear who would be UConn’s fifth starter, but after assuming that role in the two exhibition games, it’s safe to say that for now, it’s Makurat. A freshman from Sierakowice, Poland, Makurat has experience playing basketball professionally. She spent two seasons in the Basket Liga Kobiet, which is the highest of three leagues in Polish women’s basketball. She’s a great shooter and is fearless when it comes to pulling up from behind the arc. While listed on the roster as a guard, she’s 6-foot-1, so she really has the height of a forward (and is the same height as UConn’s Megan Walker). She’s a really solid all-around player — she can shoot, she can rebound and she has good ball skills — and will be asked to take on a huge role for a freshman.
Multiple times this preseason, Geno Auriemma has mentioned that there is going to be a big gap to fill following the departures of Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson to the WNBA. Multiple times this preseason, Auriemma has cited Walker as a primary source for a lot of that missing production. The junior forward was a terrific three-point shooter and rebounder last season. She shot 40 percent from deep (126 attempts), which was actually a higher percentage than Samuelson (237 attempts), and pulled down the second-most rebounds on the team behind Collier. An area where she will need to show improvement is in the playmaking department. She finished last season with more turnovers than assists. Though her role last year was as the fourth or fifth scoring option, she’s now the team’s best scorer. Defenses are going to start focusing a lot more on her. To be at her absolute best, she’s going to need to show improvements as a playmaker and passer to set up the other talented players on her team. Walker is also on the Cheryl Miller Award watchlist, an award given to the nation’s top small forward.
I sound like a broken record at this point, but Nelson-Ododa is going to be the biggest X-Factor for the Huskies this season. Why? Well, Geno just can’t stop saying it. She’s a 6-foot-5 forward (but really center) who has a really nice shooting touch and is a force on both the offensive and defensive boards. She has a great ability to block shots, as someone who is usually the tallest player on the court at all times should, contributing to her all-around solid defensive play. The biggest test this season will be how the sophomore adjusts to her greatly increased role, as she will be going from playing just 14 minutes per game as a freshman to likely over 25 or even 30 per game this season due to the lack of depth behind her. It’ll be a big test, and if she struggles, the team will too. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a sophomore — even Geno said so — but it’s the truth. Like a few of her teammates, she’s also on a watchlist, specifically the Lisa Leslie Award watchlist, an award given to the nation’s best center.