The UConn women’s hoops team made quick work of Indiana University (Pennsylvania) in it first exhibition matchup, winning 111-39. While the final result was never in doubt, it was the first opportunity to see what the Huskies might look like without Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, or Morgan Tuck.
The star of the night was junior Gabby Williams, who did it all for UConn. Despite being listed as a guard, Williams played more of a stretch forward role and excelled in every aspect of the game.
She was a force on defense, with three blocks and five steals while grabbing nine rebounds. On offense, she was at her best when she played at the top of the key and dished out a team-high nine assists to go with her 22 points. Williams’s athleticism was on full display, with her most impressive play coming when she was able to leap over the defense finish a put-back in mid-air.
“She’s a lot bigger than what she’s listed at,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after the game. “She was really good at the things she’s good at today.”
While Williams was making plays all over the court, Katie Lou Samuelson asserted herself offensively. The Huskies ran the ball through her as the clear-cut top option. During her freshman season, Samuelson was primarily a shooter, but she displayed improvement in her ability to drive to the hoop and distribute the ball. She finished as the team’s leading scorer with 24 points along with four assists and five boards.
Geno ran with his starters for much of the first quarter and surprisingly Molly Bent was his first freshman to come in off the bench. Bent appeared nervous early on but seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on. She showed solid instincts and played well on defense, but wasn’t able to generate much production on offense.
Fellow freshman Kyla Irwin could be part of the solution to UConn’s lack of size, looking impressive on the low block. She was strong on the offensive boards with three offensive rebounds while also turning in 12 points. However, she will need to improve her defense in order to earn more minutes, something Auriemma noted they’re working on.
“Just try and get in the way,” he said. “That’s our defensive philosophy with her right now.”
The final freshman to take the court for the Huskies was point guard Crystal Dangerfield. While she may have been the last to see action, the Huskies’ highest-ranked incoming freshman made her presence felt quickly with an impressive no-look pass to a streaking Napheesa Collier. She showed great poise and flashed quickness on both ends that was reminiscent of Moriah Jefferson.
Saniya Chong was solid as the starter at the point, scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. If she’s able to step up in her senior year, it gives the Huskies experience at point guard and allow shooters like Kia Nurse and Katie Lou Samuelson to play off the ball more. Nurse finished the evening with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
We obviously don’t need to put too much stock into a preseason game but, unlike years past, there are a lot of question marks for this team going into the season. For a team that lost so much talent and identity, we have at least some early indications as to who will step up. Despite losing the first three players picked in the 2016 WNBA Draft, this should still be a pretty special team.
The Huskies have one final tune-up on Sunday against Pace University at the XL Center. They will have another chance to work out any kinks before their tough non-conference schedule begins.