After a three game stint in the Virgin Islands for Paradise Jam, UConn returns home to play their first regular season game at the XL Center against DePaul. The Blue Demons will be the Huskies’ first ranked opponent of the season.
No. 2 UConn (5-0) has won most of their early season contests easily, with a hard fought win over St John’s being the exception. The Huskies captured the victory behind a fourth quarter surge, but struggled with the Red Storm’s size in the paint through much of the game.
No. 16 DePaul (4-2) will look to give UConn a similar challenge. Their two losses this season come to ranked opponents (a 24-point loss to No. 1 Notre Dame and 2-point loss to No. 12 Syracuse). Head coach Doug Bruno knows the Huskies and and Geno Auriemma well and will look to give them a tough game.
Part of that difficulty will come from DePaul’s ability to keep up with UConn’s tempo.
“You have to manage the tempo for sure because they’re very comfortable playing at that pace, and I don’t think anybody else is,” said Auriemma after practice Tuesday.
The Blue Demon’s ability to push the pace shined in their last game against Savannah State where they put up 124 points and forced 24 turnovers. They also have 20 turnovers of their own.
To UConn’s advantage, DePaul also plays a relatively small lineup and is not an elite rebounding team. The Blue Demons score just 35.7 percent of their points in the paint, among the lowest in the country, which should give the Huskies some space to excel on the defensive glass.
DePaul’s lineup is anchored by senior Ashton Millender (12.8 points per game) junior Chante Stonewall (15.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game). Millender takes the majority of her shots from beyond the arc and has a three-point percentage of 36.7 on the season. Stonewall is the biggest challenger in the paint, and especially strong on the offensive glass.
Bruno’s lineup and how it will change throughout the game and it is far from predictable.
“They play a different style and they substitute differently,” Auriemma said. “Your guess is as good as mine to what could happen tomorrow night, how they’re going to sub and how they’re going to play the game.”
UConn enters the game a perfect 15-0 in head-to-head competition and will look to extend that streak. To upset the Huskies, DePaul will likely need to force turnovers and shoot the lights out from beyond the arc. The game will certainly be a test of where this UConn team stands, and good preparation for the Final Four rematch with Notre Dame on Sunday.
Keys to the game for UConn
Perimeter defense: DePaul is taking 48.2 percent of their shots from beyond the arc on the season, which is the fourth highest three-point rate in the country. The Huskies will need to defend the perimeter well in order to force those three-point shots to be contested.
Avoiding foul trouble: In addition to UConn’s challenges with depth is that DePaul is an excellent free throw shooting team. The Blue Demons are nearly automatic from the line, shooting 88.0 percent (2nd in the country).
Taking care of the ball: The Huskies are typically a great ball handling team, but they struggled to hang on to the ball against St. John’s. UConn had a season high 15 turnovers against the Red Storm, on which they gave up 14 points. So far this season, DePaul has stolen the ball on 13.6 of their opponents’ possessions. The Huskies will need to be careful with the ball to avoid a similar fate.
How to watch:
Where: XL Center, Hartford, CT
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network