Though UConn is 129-0 against the American Athletic Conference since its creation in 2013, Memphis managed to give the Huskies quite the scare last month.
After dismantling Memphis 102-45 last season, the post-Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson Huskies were only able to beat Memphis by 12 earlier this season.
“That game was a pain in the butt down in Memphis, and it won’t be easy up here,” head coach Geno Auriemma said.
UConn (19-2) came away with the 68-56 win, but the Tigers (12-10) were able to expose UConn’s biggest weakness: Their lack of size.
On Jan. 14 in Memphis, Tenn., the Tigers’ starting center Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu got UConn for 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting while going 9-for-10 from the free throw line and grabbing 10 rebounds. Her four offensive rebounds also added to Memphis’ total of 13 for the game.
Memphis scored 24 points in the paint and 14 from the charity stripe, which accounted for 67.8% of their total for the game. This is the proven formula to beat UConn, just as Oregon and Baylor did this season.
In UConn’s most recent loss, Oregon got 70.3% of their points from the paint and free throw line. Baylor, who handed UConn their only other loss this season, scored 60.8% of their points this way.
“We need to be tougher. That’s the bottom line. We’re not big enough, so we need to be physically tougher,” Auriemma said.
Fankam Mendjiadeu dominated Olivia Nelson-Ododa in their last matchup, forcing UConn’s center to use four of her fouls. Auriemma was only able to play Nelson-Ododa, her best matchup for Fankam Mendjiadeu, for a total of 27 minutes.
The Huskies were ultimately able to steal the win because Crystal Dangerfield made the most of her matchup with Memphis’ leader in points, assists and steals per game, Jamirah Shutes. Dangerfield held her point guard counterpart to eight points, around half of her season average, on 3-for-15 shooting (or should I say “Shute-ing”).
On the offensive end, Dangerfield shot 7-of-13 for 24 points, making four three-pointers and going a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line. Auriemma often says that Dangerfield is at her best when she focuses on scoring and lets the passing come naturally.
After suffering an ACL injury, the Huskies won’t see any of Shutes on Friday.
Perhaps to UConn’s dismay, Fankam Mendjiadeu has stepped up in Shutes’ absence. In the two games since the point guard’s season ended, Fankam Mendjiadeu is averaging 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per contest.
Madison Griggs and Gazmyne Herndon are two players that have absorbed Shutes’ minutes at the guard position. They’ve combined for 19 points in each of the last two games, also combining for nine assists in the last game and and eight in the game before.
If Dangerfield and Williams can win the matchups against Memphis’ guards again, and the Huskies can do a better job with protecting the paint from human-wrecking-ball Fankam Mendjiadeu, they can make it 130 straight wins against the AAC.
UConn and Memphis will play Friday night at Gampel Pavilion. The game will tip off at 7 p.m.