After seeing their 111 game win streak and hopes of a fifth-straight national championship dashed by a buzzer-beater from Mississippi State’s Morgan William in last year’s Final Four, UConn women’s basketball is primed for yet another dominant season.
As always, the Huskies have a challenging schedule ahead, and while this team is arguably one the most talented squads Geno Auriemma has had in years, an undefeated season is far from guaranteed given that women’s basketball is as competitive as it’s ever been.
The UConn Blog staff ranked some of the biggest roadblocks that the Huskies will face as they go for their 12th title.
9. USF Bulls
AP Poll Rank: No. 23
Jan. 6 (Away), Feb. 26 at Gampel, potentially in AAC tournament
The Bulls are probably the longest shot to take down the Huskies this season, but nonetheless are a talented team that is very familiar with UConn and will have its share of chances. Standout junior Kitijia Laksa, who averaged 19.2 points per game and shot 38.8 percent from deep last season, is one of the best scorers in the country and has a solid companion in the backcourt in Maria Jespersen, who scored 14.7 points per game last year.
The Huskies have had the Bulls’ number the past few years, but USF has the necessary talent and coaching to hand the Huskies’ their first-ever AAC loss should UConn come out flat.
8. Oregon Ducks
AP Poll Rank: No. 11
Potential NCAA tournament matchup
UConn took down Oregon on their way to their 10th-straight Final Four appearance last season, and there’s a good chance these two teams find themselves facing off in the tournament more in the future. The Ducks have a talented young core led by Sabrina Ionescu, who posted four triple-doubles last season and averaged 14.6 points per game as a freshman to earn the USBWA Freshman of the Year award.
Ionescu is joined by fellow sophomore Ruthy Hebard, a 6-foot-4 center that averaged 14.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. With Ionescu and Hebard heading into their second season, a future matchup with the Huskies is almost inevitable, and the talent is there to give UConn all it can handle.
7. Maryland Terrapins
AP Poll Rank: No. 15
Nov. 19 at XL Center
Last March, it seemed like UConn and Maryland were on a collision course for the Elite Eight. That was until the Terrapins were knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen by Oregon, whom the Huskies rolled over on their way to the Final Four.
However, the Terrapins lost over half their scoring from last year. Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough both graduated, while National Freshman of the Year Destiny Slocumb transferred to Oregon State. Despite this, Brenda Frese’s teams always give UConn a tough game and this year should be no different.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
AP Poll Rank: No. 7
Potential NCAA tournament matchup
Vic Schaefer and the Bulldogs earned their spot on this list last season, when they became the first team in 111 tries to beat the Huskies at last year’s Final Four. Mississippi State returns star guards Morgan William and leading scorer Victoria Vivians, who averaged 16.7 points per game last season. The extra year of experience combined with Teaira McCowan- the 6-foot-7 center that had 10 points and eight rebounds in last season’s win over UConn - makes the No. 4 Bulldogs a dangerous team should the Huskies to run into them in the NCAA tournament again this season.
5. Baylor Bears
AP Poll Rank: No. 3
Potential NCAA tournament matchup
There was a time Baylor was the top of the women’s basketball world after capturing the 2012 national championship with a perfect 40-0 season. That time has now passed.
Still, the Bears are projected to be one of the nation’s top teams this season. They are led by All-American and Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Kalani Brown and senior guard Kristy Wallace. In their matchup last season, UConn came away with a hard-fought 72-61 victory at Gampel Pavilion.
The two teams aren’t scheduled to play this season, although it would be no surprise to run into Kim Mulkey’s squad at some point in the NCAA Tournament.
4. Stanford Cardinal
AP Poll Rank: No. 10
Nov. 12 (Neutral)
Last year’s national championship was supposed to be the Samuelson Bowl between UConn and Stanford. But thanks to Morgan William and Karlie Samuelson’s ankle, that never happened.
However, the Huskies and Cardinal didn’t have to wait too long to face each other as they will open the season with each other in the Countdown to Columbus. Stanford lost a strong senior core to graduation but still returns Kaylee Johnson and Brittany McPhee while also bringing in a strong recruiting class.
With Tara VanDerveer at the helm, Stanford is perennially one of the best teams in the country and is always a threat to the Huskies as we learned in 2015. However, UConn hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 1993-1994 and hasn’t lost a season opener since 1995-1996.
3. Texas Longhorns
AP Poll Rank: No. 2
Jan. 15 (Away)
UConn-Texas is quietly becoming an up-and-coming rivalry in women’s college basketball. The two teams have faced off three times in the last three seasons, including two NCAA Tournament matchups. While the Huskies have won all three games, the Longhorns have tightened the gap in each game.
Texas’ lone victory over UConn came on the recruiting trail when Charli Collier, the No. 3 player in the class of 2018, flipped from the Huskies to the Longhorns.
This season, UConn will head down to the Lone Star State to face Karen Aston’s squad. They are led by 2017 Big 12 Player of the Year Brooke McCarty and first team All-Big 12 guard Ariel Atkins, while featuring the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation.
2. South Carolina Gamecocks
AP Poll Rank: No. 4
Feb. 1 (Away)
Despite being one of the marquee non-conference matchups of last season, South Carolina was no more than spectators to UConn’s 100th straight victory. The Gamecocks held close for three quarters but the Huskies were too much down the final stretch and came away with a 66-55 win.
This season will be tougher for UConn as they will have to visit the reigning national champions. The Gamecocks return most of their core from last season, including first team All-American A’ja Wilson. While South Carolina captured their first title, they have still yet to take down the Huskies in five chances.
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
AP Poll Rank: No. 6
Dec. 3 at the XL Center
UConn’s matchups with the Irish are always some of the best that the sport has to offer, and this year’s game likely won’t be any different. After the Huskies beat Notre Dame 72-61 on the road last season, Muffet McGraw’s team has added even more talent in front court.
Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard will be eligible for the Irish after averaging 18.6 points and 9.8 rebounds in her sophomore season. Shepard will help fill the void in the post left by Brianna Turner, who tore her ACL in the NCAA tournament last season. The addition of Shepard along with leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale (15.9 points per game, 45 percent from the 3-point line) and Marina Mabrey (14.6 points per game) make this team as dangerous as ever.