In a matchup between two of the best teams in women’s college basketball, the No. 3 UConn Huskies showed that there would be no rebuilding year in Storrs as they defeated the No. 2 Baylor Bears with an impressive 72-61 victory.
The Huskies were led by freshman point guard Crystal Dangerfield, who came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Dangerfield showed the confidence and poise of a veteran, seemingly unfazed by the bright lights while making big plays on offense and defense all throughout the game.
“I think I’ve played in enough big games, played USA Basketball, been on national levels with my high school team so a game like that didn’t faze me,” said Dangerfield.
Both teams were evenly matched for much of the game. Baylor’s size advantage showed early, but adjustments by the Huskies as well as Beatrice Mompremier and Kalania Brown dealing with foul trouble for nearly the entire game reduced their edge down low. While the two combined for 15 rebounds, just three of those came on the offensive glass and they only scored 11 points total between the two of them.
The Bears were not alone in dealing with foul trouble as Katie Lou Samuelson, Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier all dealt with two fouls in the first half, forcing the Huskies into a rare zone defense. Offense was hard to come by though, although sloppy play was more to blame for the low score than the defense with both teams combining for 15 turnovers in the first half.
“What I saw today was surprising that offensively we’re usually the best team in the country and we weren’t for long stretches,” said head coach Geno Auriemma. “That surprised me a little bit.”
While foul trouble dictated most of Auriemma’s substitutions, it was his first sub that was the biggest difference in the game. Dangerfield was the first player off the bench for the Huskies and immediately made an impact, hitting back-to-back threes while also showing her ability to pull-up in the lane.
While Dangerfield provided the spark on the offense end, Natalie Butler was steady defensively as she guarded the Baylor bigs with both Collier and Williams dealing with foul trouble. Her impact may not be seen on the stat sheet but was key in limiting the Bears’ post game.
The third quarter was mostly controlled by UConn as the offense played better while Baylor continued struggling to keep their bigs on the floor together. Kalani Brown was mostly ineffective in the second half as every time she came into the game, she seemed to get another quick foul and found herself on the bench again. This opened up the lane for Napheesa Collier who was able to get inside and earn a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Baylor fought back in the fourth quarter, at one point tying the game at 54. However the Huskies came roaring back with a 10-2 run, where they executed when they needed to while the Bears seemed to fall apart down the stretch.
“That last six or seven minutes we grew up a lot. We really came of age so to speak,” said Auriemma. “That doesn’t mean we’re old enough that we don’t need to grow some more but I thought to last Monday night, we really earned it. We were good tonight. We were good when we had to be good.”
Unlike Monday night where they let Florida State stay in the game late, UConn kept their foot on Baylor’s throat and held strong to the final buzzer to the tune of an 11-point victory.
This was a statement victory for the Huskies, showing that they are still capable of playing at a high level despite losing the talent that they did. At the same time, it is only the second game of the season and they still face a slew of top-tier teams in the upcoming weeks.
There is still plenty of room for this team to grow and their youth means they will likely struggle at times. However, it is certainly a confidence booster and a step in the right direction for this team.
UConn is back in action on Sunday as they’ll head to Baton Rouge, LA for a nationally televised matchup on ESPN with the LSU Tigers at 5:30 p.m.