On Feb. 3, UConn is set to host the Oregon Ducks at Gampel Pavilion for what will be their highest-profile home game of the season.
Oregon, at 18-2 (assuming they beat Utah Thursday night), is currently the No. 3 ranked team in the country, with their losses coming against the No. 8 ranked Louisville cardinals and an 11-4 Arizona state team.
UConn, at 19-1 , is the No. 4 ranked team. Against Cincinnati on Thursday, they sure didn’t look like it.
Sure, the scoreboard reads it as a 30-point win where the Huskies could just cruise to an easy victory, but it rarely felt like that.
At the end of the first half, UConn was barely clinging to a four-point lead, having been outscored in the second quarter 22-9. They struggled in just about every aspect of the game, from going 4-for-16 from the field and 0-for-5 from three to turning the ball over six times, over a third of their total for the entire game.
“We just didn’t do a good job in transition defense, matching up, and we let I think it was No. 12, she was getting wide-open looks off of kick-outs,” Megan Walker said. “So that’s just our team’s fault, we gotta do a better job of matching up.”
Walker finished the game with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting including 2-of-4 from three, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 5 turnovers in another strong game. She also did it while getting poked in the eye twice. The first time she managed to stay in the game but the second time sidelined her the majority of the third quarter.
However, her 24 points didn’t lead the team, that went to Crystal Dangerfield who dropped 24 on 7-of-13 shooting from the field while going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Was it a good game? Yes, but Dangerfield doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m gonna be really honest and give it a C,” Dangerfield said. “Because yeah, I put points on the board, but overall our team wasn’t too great out there, and that’s what I’m supposed to be in charge of.”
Thirty-point wins versus American Athletic Conference opponents aren’t really anything new. UConn still can dominate games and not look their best, and that’s what happened on Thursday night.
“We have days where we show signs of being a really great team, probably the best team in the country, and then we have days where it’s like ‘how are we even at Connecticut,’” Dangerfield said. “Most of the time it’s instances where we have control of what’s going on and if everybody can understand that whenever those times happen and reel it back in … we can be in a really good spot come February.”
It’s that lack of consistency that has plagued this team all season. Sometimes it looks like the team has progressed and found ways to get everyone in the rotation involved in a meaningful way, and other days it looks like back in November when the “core four” is scoring 80-plus percent of the points.
It was more the latter on Thursday, with Dangerfield, Walker, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa scoring 69 of the team’s 80 points.
If this is the team that shows up against Oregon on Monday, there’s the potential that it can end up very ugly, especially considering that Dangerfield, Walker and Nelson-Ododa probably won’t combine to shoot 65.6% against a team as strong as Oregon.
But at this point in the season, it’s just not practical to look too much into any one game. They looked fantastic against Tennessee, another top-25 team, just a week ago. They played a great three and a half quarters versus the U.S. National Team on Monday. One game, especially for this team, is not nearly a large enough sample size. They’re too inconsistent for that.
“I think it’s game to game, I don’t think there’s any way to connect the dots anymore,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “The second quarter we outscored the National Team 20-10. Tonight we lost 20-something to nine. So you can’t really go by ‘well this happened and now you’re ready for that’ … It’s day to day, you watch one game and go ‘wow, we were really good that game,’ and then you cross your fingers and hope you’re just as good the next game.”
The only thing to know for sure what to expect is that Oregon is a great basketball team, and they’re going to be a tough task for UConn even at their best. But that’s just how they like it.
“We’re feeling good,” Walker said. “You know, just competing against the best team in the world, and knowing that we can keep up with them, it’s only right for Oregon to be up next.”