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Takeaways: UConn Women’s Basketball vs. Vanguard (Exhibition)

The Huskies’ two freshmen looked good in the first live action of their careers.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn women’s basketball team saw its first live opponent on Sunday, dismissing Vanguard 96-30 in an exhibition at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies dominated from start-to-finish, as was expected. However, head coach Geno Auriemma noted the score in an exhibition game doesn’t mean too much.

“Every exhibition game is the same,” he said. “We’re going to play a team that we’re going to beat by a lot so you can’t go by the final score. You try to go by how they look, what was the feel of it.”

Strong Starts for the Freshmen

It’s been a while since a freshman made a sizable impact for UConn. But it didn’t take long for Christyn Williams to get going for the Huskies. Just six seconds in, she scored the first points of the game by driving to the hoop before Vanguard’s defense even knew what was happening.

That first basket helped her shake off the nerves in front of the biggest crowd she’s ever played in front of.

“After those first two points I was pretty comfortable,” Williams said. “There’s some things I still need to work on but overall I think I did a pretty good job.”

She finished with 10 points, five rebounds and one assist. With a higher confidence level and more poise than most freshmen, Williams can make an impact on a game anytime she touches the ball and Auriemma makes sure to keep reminding her of that.

“She’s good at a lot of things,” he said. “Whenever she catches the ball I want her to do something. I don’t know what or how, but I know she’s going to do something with it.”

While her classmate stole the show, Olivia Nelson-Ododa also had a positive outing. She grabbed 11 rebounds — second-most on the team — including seven on the offensive glass — and two blocks.

At the same time, Nelson-Ododa clearly has room to grow. Despite a decent height advantage, she didn’t get many good looks at the basket and seemed to struggle with her positioning down low. She got to the free throw line four times but hit just one of those attempts.

“She was active. She’s going to get a lot better,” Auriemma said. “She better get a lot better fast because we’re going to need her sooner rather than later. She has a lot to offer.”

Starters Dominate

Despite two unproven players in the lineup, UConn’s starting five dominated, as they should. They scored 80 of the team’s 96 points and held a death grip on the game when they were on the court. The Huskies jumped out to a 25-0 lead and never looked back.

Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson both scored 26 points apiece with the latter snagging 11 rebounds. Crystal Dangerfield dished out 8 assists and was in total control of the offense. Megan Walker grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds to go with 11 points. It was the type of performance Auriemma expected from his starters against a team like Vanguard. But he wasn’t going to put too much stock into it.

“It got to a point where it was really hard to evaluate what we were getting done that will translate into what we want to get done next Sunday (against Ohio State),” he said. “We got out, put our uniforms on, ran up and down. Trying to read anything more into all that is probably not worth anything at this point in the season, not with this team. I think we’ll know next Sunday night we’ll have a much better idea.”

Bench Disappoints

Beyond those five, it was a different story for the Huskies. Auriemma played his entire roster and gave the reserves plenty of minutes, but they had little to show for it. The bench played the majority of the fourth quarter and were outscored by Vanguard 15-9. Their performance came as little surprise to Auriemma.

“I’ve been saying it for two years now,” he said. “We have a big gap between the group we play and the next group.”

However, the Huskies will need something from the bench this season. They can’t rely on five players to play 40 minutes every game and stay healthy the entire season. That’s just not realistic. Instead, Auriemma is keeping his expectations down and just wants his bench players to find roles for themselves.

“Anyone coming off the bench has to feel they can contribute something because we’re going to need them at some point,” he said.

On a separate note, it was a big recruiting weekend for UConn. They had four recruits at the game. From the 2019 class, Haley Jones (Ranked No. 1) and Aliyah Boston (No. 3) were there for official visits. Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, the top players in the class of 2020 and 2021, respectively, were both in attendance as well.

Postgame video (Geno Auriemma, Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson, Christyn Williams