The Daily Campus recently had the pleasure of speaking with the SNY crew covering UConn women’s basketball, which includes Eric Frede and UConn alums Meghan Culmo and Kara Wolters. Associate sports editor and UConn women’s basketball beat writer Christopher Hanna was able to speak with the experts about their takes on a number of burning questions on the Huskies for the upcoming season.
Q: Who is UConn’s toughest non-conference opponent this season?
Eric: It’s interesting, [there’s Cal, Maryland, Michigan State and Notre Dame]. Those are going to be tough games, but they’re all battling through some issues on their rosters right now…I look at a trip to South Carolina that’s probably gonna be the game, even though they’re another team that’s replacing a lot. When you’re talking about playing the defending national champs on the road and that one falling in the middle of the conference schedule…so I’d say South Carolina on the road.
Meghan: Certainly, at South Carolina, Eric I agree with you. Notre Dame is always tough. But I also think and I mean [even with injuries and graduation], I even think at UCLA is gonna be a really good game, too. I mean they’re a program that’s really been on the rise the last couple years. Fun to watch. And at Texas is gonna be a tough game, too.
Kara: Let me start by saying, in my personal opinion, they’re not gonna get beat this year…I’ve watched them practice, I‘ve watched their exhibition games, I’ve watched before they went overseas this summer. Holy crap, they are good and they have a chip on their shoulder. Honestly, like, I don’t see them losing, but don’t ever tell Geno I said that ‘cause he would be like “Oh stop it, you’re gonna jinx us.”
That being said, of course…South Carolina, of course that’s gonna be a big game. They’re national championships, there’s gonna be a lot of hype around it. But I also think Notre Dame…With Notre Dame to me, it’s a mental thing. That’s a team that has beat UConn a lot…They know Notre Dame is capable of beating them.
Q: Who do you see ending up as the Huskies’ leading scorer this season?
Eric: I continue to think that Napheesa (Collier) is still the player who can take over a game. I’m interested to see…if Katie Lou (Samuelson) is gonna continue to make that jump to not just be someone who can score from the perimeter, but who can dominate in all facets of the game, offensively. Napheesa seems to be that player to me…There’s gonna be nights where everybody takes a turn, it’s not gonna be just one player to dominate.
Meghan: I think we’ll see them this year do another really good job of exploiting a particular matchup. Now certainly Azurá Stevens, she presents such an interesting challenge for other people. How do you guard her? She’s 6-foot-6. She can shoot the three. She can handle the ball. She can post up in the lane. Some games, she’s gonna have 20… I wouldn’t be surprised if there were three or four players, maybe even five, averaging between 18 and 22 a game. And we’ve never seen that in their history.
Kara: For me, that’s an almost impossible thing to answer because one of the things they’re best known for is not really having that one player that every night is gonna score 30 points. That’s what makes them so deadly. It’s everyone capable of scoring a lot of points and being neck-and-neck in scoring. But to Meghan’s point, Azurá Stevens, to me, is gonna be one of the biggest differences in this year’s team…, not only is capable of scoring…but (UConn) haven’t had a big presence like that in a while.
Q: Do you think this talented freshmen class will be frustrated with limited minutes in Geno Auriemma’s small rotation?
Eric: Well, before Meg and Kara speak from experience, I believe the coaching staff tells the freshmen “you have no idea what you’re getting into, don’t expect just to jump in here and pick up where you left off in high school.” And they do it in a loving way, a caring way. But in a very direct way, so I think they know right from the start that it’s gonna be tough to play when you’re a freshmen here unless you’re something special.
Meghan: These kids, they know who should play and who shouldn’t. They know that. And they’ve never ever, ever had to work this hard. And if they think they should be playing and they’re not playing, there’s a disconnect. Usually, the right people play… In the past, people have transferred for a variety of reasons, I’m sure playing time was up there. But there are kids who have come here and haven’t played, but they enjoyed the experience and they wanna be a part of the program and a part of the team, and be a good teammate. And that usually figures itself out, but these guys know whether they should be playing or not.
Kara: I was watching the (Ashland) game with my kids, and one of (the freshmen) got only a little more playing time than the other, and she played great in the (few) minutes she was in there… It’s gotta be frustrating to them, it always is. You’re sitting on the bench wondering, “Well this is embarrassing, we’re winning by a hundred and (coach) still won’t put me in.” (Geno Auriemma) doesn’t mind to play a six-player rotation. He doesn’t care. So they have to learn, in the minutes they have, to play well so they can earn more playing time. But psychologically, that’s a hard thing to do. That’s really hard… You have to figure out who can take it and who can’t.
Q: What is it about Geno Auriemma that enables him to continuously bring in the top recruits in the nation (like No. 1 2018 recruit Christyn Williams)?
Eric: When you’re at the top of the food chain, it just doesn’t surprise you at all. There’s a long line of players who would love to play for the top program in the country. Some don’t even get considered, and the ones that do considered, I mean it’s a small list, it’s not like they’re throwing this huge net out... I mean you can be so selective when you’ve won that many national championships and you play in a certain way. It’s not a style or a culture that fits everybody, but for those players who look at that and say, “That’s the kind of place I wanna play in,” we’ve seen in the past, it’s a perfect fit. You find out pretty soon if it’s not a perfect fit, too.
Meghan: Because of the way they do things, which we all know is very unique, and the way Geno and Chris (Dailey) run their program, they have a particular style. They have a particular culture and it doesn’t fit every kid. And I think it fits kids even less today, because kids aren’t used to working this hard. It’s a true culture shock for these freshmen... For that, I think it’s even more challenging for these (coaches) to get the right kind of player to come play for them. However, they have such a success rate and (Geno) is a pretty funny guy, pretty charming guy. They’re great recruiters…they’re great people who are a lot of fun to talk to, a lot of fun to get to know. And they’re the best and they make players better and they win championships. And now not only do we have the All-Americans and the national championships. We have players who are the heart and soul of USA basketball and are winning gold medals… There’s a lot involved here. They know who they want and they go and get them. And it’s almost hard for these kids. It’s a hard thing to say yes to come here cause it’s really hard work.
Kara: The (coaches) don’t even have to fish anymore, (the recruits) just jump in the boat.
Thanks to the SNY crew for their time for this roundtable Q&A. You can follow up with their coverage of UConn women’s basketball throughout the 2017-18 season.