UConn women motivated, not dwelling on Final Four loss
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — The UConn women’s team hasn’t watched the Final Four loss to Mississippi State.
The players say they don’t need a film session to remind them how their 111-game winning streak ended, along with a chance for a fifth straight national championship.
The Huskies come into this season carrying that chip on their shoulders, despite being ranked No. 1 for the 12th time in school history.
“If anyone told you they forgot about the ending of last year, then I’d be disappointed in them as teammates,” said senior guard Kia Nurse. “It’s something that you have to use in the right way — as a fire, as a way to motivate you, a reminder of what you need to do to get better.”
The Huskies roster, at the very least, appears to have improved.
Guard Saniya Chong graduated from last season’s record-setting squad and center Natalie Butler transferred. But the Huskies will start an unprecedented three preseason All-Americans in Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams.
They also have former Kentucky forward Batouly Camara and 6-foot-6 Azura Stevens from Duke, both of whom sat out last season after transferring.
Coach Geno Auriemma expects Stevens to be one the team’s biggest weapons, a threat both in the paint and beyond the 3-point line.
“I hope we can get her a lot of shots,” Auriemma said. “Even without breaking a sweat, she’s capable of getting 25 every night, easy.”
UConn added another top recruiting class, bringing in four blue-chip freshmen, including national high school player of the year Megan Walker.
Here are some things to watch for as UConn attempts a new streak and quest for a 12th national title when it opens the season against No. 10 Stanford on Sunday:
RUNNING THE GAUNTLET
UConn again has one of the toughest schedules in the nation. They play the Cardinal at the Countdown to Columbus Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
The Huskies will play non-conference games against No. 8 UCLA, No. 20 Cal, Michigan State, No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 25 DePaul, No. 22 Oklahoma, No. 2 Texas and defending national champion South Carolina, currently at No. 4.
Samuelson said they know that most of the country will be rooting for the Huskies to lose in those games. She said the team uses that as motivation.
“There’s kind of a knowing that it’s UConn against the world right now and all we really have is each other,” Samuelson said.
UConn’s smallest player, 5-5 sophomore Crystal Dangerfield, will be running the offense from the point this season. She told reporters the Huskies will come into the season angry and looking to be bullies.
“Crystal wants to be a bully?” Auriemma said. “I guess if there’s a remake of the Smurf movie, she might bully them. I don’t know who else she’s going to bully. But we have talked about having a certain aggressive mentality. We’re a little older. I think we’re a little smarter to do some things we haven’t done in the past. I think it’s a natural progression for some of these guys.”
Not every streak ended with last season’s loss in the national semifinals. UConn currently has a 65-game home winning streak and has not lost two games in a row since the 1992-93 season, a span of 886 games. They are 57-0 following a loss during the streak. They also have won 135 straight games against unranked opponents.
Auriemma said he’s not sure how much playing time he’ll give his four freshmen — Walker, Alexis Gordon, Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Mikayla Coombs. Auriemma said none of them are a threat to the starters at this point.
“If you could take one piece from all four of them and make one player, we would have another Maya Moore,” Auriemma said. “Each one of them has something.”
BEHIND THE ARC
Samuelson comes into her junior season already ranked 11th in school history in made 3-pointers with 197 and needs just 11 more to move ahead of Sue Bird and Jennifer Rizzotti, who each had 207. She’s also in sixth place in school history in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 41 percent from behind the arc.