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women’s basketball Auriemma cutting Huskies some slack during exam week

December 12, 2018 GMT

STORRS — Crystal Dangerfield has a lot on her plate. Besides basketball practice, of course, she has four final exams this week.

“Calculus, accounting, Spanish and … what is the other one?” Dangerfield said before a long pause. “That’s a problem. Oh, communications.”

That was Friday, the day before an easy 99-61 win over Seton Hall that marked the end of a taxing stretch for the No. 1 team in the country. Despite some tired legs, UConn managed to come out of it at 9-0.

“You can tell people are a little tired, a little hit at this time of the season,” All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said, reflecting on the season’s first month. “This is the part where you have to dig deep mentally, get yourself prepared. We have a week right here basically of practices. For us, I know, practice isn’t rest, but it’s still rest from games. Those are a different type of battle.”

While his practices tend to be just as, if not more, intense than games — “We practice harder than we play,” Dangerfield said — Geno Auriemma understands the value of rest. This week, for instance, Auriemma will likely scale back his demands by shortening and simplifying practices.

“The players themselves need some time away from the game,” said Auriemma, whose team doesn’t play again until Dec. 19 at Oklahoma. “I think mentally you get a little drained, more so mentally than physically. You add the exam part on, it’s a lot.

“We’re going to take a couple days off and re-charge. Practices will be short and sweet, and we’ll try to get a little bit better.”

Auriemma, who now sits 900 games over .500 for his career (1,036-136), isn’t one to settle for status quo. His teams tend to start strong and finish stronger, as evidenced by his 19 Final Fours and 11 national championships. The hope internally, of course, is that this one will be no different.

“I think we’ve handled a lot of adversity pretty well,” said Samuelson, who is averaging a team-high 20.1 points per game. “I think how composed this team has been able to stay in situations, when other teams go on runs or get riled up, we’ve stayed calm. We know what we can do, and we know what we do every single day in practice.”

While the future of Auriemma’s program has been questioned because of a series of recruiting misses — from Jordan Horston to Aliyah Boston to Haley Jones — it’s hard to find faults in the present. Bolstered by the emergence of guard Christyn Williams, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, the Huskies have beaten opponents by an average of 34.9 points.

Thus far, Williams has been nothing short of eye-opening, averaging 13.9 points, including 28 at Notre Dame. Yet even she is feeling the effects of a busy start to the season.

“Yeah, I was a little fatigued today,” Williams said after scoring 15 points (all in the first quarter) against Seton Hall. “We’re going to take this break and get back at it.”

Williams said she’s leaning on the upperclassmen, including Dangerfield, a junior point guard, for advice on how to pace herself. There’s an understanding that the grind has only just begun.

“I think everybody could benefit from a break,” Dangerfield said. “But when we do come back, it’s (time to) get to work. We’ve got some big games coming up after that.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour