UConn women’s basketball comes back from the holiday break to a top ten match-up at No. 8 Baylor. In the Huskies’ final game in the non-conference schedule before conference play begins on Sunday, they will likely face their toughest test so far this season.
Guarding the Bears’ star senior center Kalani Brown in the paint will be the toughest part of that test. The 6-foot-7 preseason All-American is averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, and is shooting 62 percent from two point range. Junior forward Lauren Cox follows not far behind, with 11.7 points and 6.4 boards per game. Brown and Cox’s size and athleticism will create difficult match-ups in the paint.
Napheesa Collier will be tasked with her toughest mismatch so far in guarding Brown, but defense will need to be a full team effort to contain Baylor’s bigs.
“The way we play together and the way we execute our stuff is something that we do better than anyone else in the county. We work together very well,” Katie Lou Samuelson said before the game. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and this year more than ever we’ve had to focus on team defense.”
Baylor’s size and presence in the paint is one of their biggest advantages against the Huskies. However, it also creates another opportunity for freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa to step up off the bench.
“If she can get in there and draw some fouls, and get them in foul trouble and go down and block some shots and limit their touches its going to be big. Hopefully she’s ready for that,” Crystal Dangerfield on Nelson-Ododa.
This will be the Bears’ first top ten game this season, and they head into the contest at 9-1 on the season. Their only loss of the year came on the road at Stanford, where they shot just 19 percent from the floor in the first half. Stanford held Baylor’s star frontcourt players, Brown and Cox, to a total of just 7 points.
Even with their stars held quiet, the game with Stanford remained close largely due to the Bears’ depth. Freshman NaLyssa Smith, who had 15 points in the Stanford game, averages 12.1 points and 7.0 rebounds off the bench. Smith is the biggest star thus far of the top recruiting class in the country — all of who come off the bench for the Bears.
In addition to their size and depth, Baylor is also an elite shot blocking team, averaging 6.9 blocks a game and leading the country by blocking 21 percent of their opponents two-point attempts.
The Huskies do have multiple advantages heading into the game as well. Baylor typically does not force a lot of turnovers on the defensive end. With UConn already ranking the best in the country at 10.7 turnovers per game, they should be able to limit their turnovers against the Bears.
Additionally, Baylor does not shoot the ball from beyond the arc often. They have made just 40 three-pointers so far this season. For context, the Huskies have made more than double. If UConn can have a good night from beyond the arc, it may be enough to propel them to head into conference play still undefeated.
Keys to the game for UConn
Interior defense: The Bears score near 70 percent of their points from two point range. UConn will need to defend them inside, and especially in the paint. Of course, the Huskies also need to contain their bigs without fouling to keep their starters on the floor as much as possible.
Shooting the ball well: Baylor is the top defensive rebounding team in the country, collecting over 78 percent of available rebounds on their opponents’ basket. The Huskies’ will likely not have many second chance opportunities and need to have a good shooting night. Shooting the ball well from three-point range will give the Huskies an extra edge.
Capitalizing on turnovers: Baylor averages over 15 turnovers per game. If the Huskies can get out in transition and score points off of the Bear’s turnovers while also taking care of the ball on their end, it will give them another advantage.
How to watch:
Where: Ferell Center, Waco, Texas
When: 9 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network