A new UConn women’s basketball season is officially upon us. After a month of practice, two exhibitions and plenty of talk, the Huskies will finally take the court for some meaningful action on Sunday against the Cal Golden Bears. With that, we tried our hand at making some predictions for what should be another intriguing season for Geno Auriemma’s squad.
Daniel Connolly: Megan Walker. Even with how good Crystal Dangerfield is, Walker was UConn’s best player in the preseason. She demanded the ball and played with an energy and aggressiveness that we haven’t see out of her before. I think Walker’s going to turn into one of the best players in the country this season and finally live up to her billing as a No. 1 overall recruit.
Megan Gauer: Megan Walker. Exhibition games should be taken with a grain of salt, but Walker has looked great so far for UConn. Her ability to score in so many different ways makes her poised to be the lead scorer on this team, and I definitely think we will see multiple 30+ point games from her this season.
Dan Madigan: I think Christyn Williams makes the leap this year. She showed flashes last season of just how special she can be as a scorer and might be one of the best scorers in the country off of the dribble. I think she’ll consistently put up big numbers now that she has a year of experience under her belt, especially in transition.
Connolly: Crystal Dangerfield. Make no mistake, this is Dangerfield’s team. While Auriemma has explicitly said UConn can’t replace Nelson-Ododa, I don’t think they could replace Dangerfield either. The Huskies worked on half-court sets without their point guard in the second half against Trevecca and only scored 25 points in 20 minutes. While the lineup was certainly bench-heavy for much of that, it still shows just how critical Dangerfield is to the function of the offense.
Megan: Olivia Nelson-Ododa. A lot of this team’s success relies on Nelson-Ododa’s ability to really step it up for UConn this year. That being said, if she can make the jump, UConn will be able to run a lot of offense through her in the post and count on her to make big defensive plays on the glass.
Madigan: Megan Walker. Walker is extremely well rounded as a player — she can score in the post and on the perimeter, plays good defense, and is a phenomenal rebounder. She’s a star in the making, and will be relied upon often to make this team go. She might not excel at any one thing, but Walker’s good enough at everything to adjust her game based on the opponent and UConn’s offensive/defensive needs.
Connolly: Olivia Nelson-Ododa is the easy choice, but for the sake of difference I’ll go with UConn’s two reserve four-year seniors: Molly Bent and Kyla Irwin. I think this is the year they finally contribute something to the team, even if it’s not a lot. One of them’s also going to have a big play late in a game to help the Huskies win. Just watch.
Megan: I think the obvious answer here is Olivia Nelson-Ododa, but being everyone is expecting her to have a big year, I am going to go with Anna Makurat. Her international experience should help her adjust quicker than the average freshman. In the Huskies’ first exhibition game, she showed the confidence early on to both drive the ball inside through defenders and take the outside shot. She will have a big role as a freshman, and I think she’s ready for it.
Madigan: Since she’s still “on the board,” I’m taking Olivia Nelson-Ododa. She posted some big-time numbers against quality opponents with Team USA this summer and it seems like she’s poised for a big sophomore season. She has shown flashes at the college level of being a dominant shot blocker and rebounder, and can become an elite player if she scores like she did this summer.
How many regular season games do they lose (if any)?
Connolly: One, excluding the USA exhibition. Either Baylor or Oregon is going to beat the Huskies but I have a hard time seeing them lose both at home in one season. Other than that, Notre Dame is in a down year and has to come to Gampel. DePaul is usually a good challenge but hasn’t come close to beating UConn in a while. Tennessee isn’t good anymore. South Carolina is young and has never beat the Huskies. And they ain’t losing in the conference.
Megan: One, or two if you count the USA exhibition game. UConn benefits this year from their strong non-conference opponents not coming until January, which gives them a couple of months to figure everything out. I still think the home court win streak ends against either Baylor or Oregon this season. The Huskies will have a (most likely) sold out Gampel crowd behind them for Oregon, so I’d go with Baylor for the loss.
Madigan: Outside of the Team USA game, I think the Huskies lose 2-3 games this season against some combination of Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame, South Carolina and DePaul. It’s never a bad thing to lose regular season games — it just doesn’t happen often with this team. This is an insanely hard schedule for a relatively young UConn team outside of Dangerfield and Walker.
Do they win the national championship?
Connolly: My gut says no. I don’t think it’s impossible but UConn would probably have to get lucky with its bracket and/or hope for some upsets. The Huskies are just too thin in the frontcourt with Nelson-Ododa and Walker, and it’s hard to see that changing drastically by March.
Megan: No. But, I do think the Huskies will make it to their 13th straight Final Four.
Madigan: What Megan said. They’re going to make it interesting and find a way to the Final Four, but I think Oregon wins it all this year.
Do they lose a conference game?
Connolly: Nope. Everyone likes to talk about USF as “competition” for UConn in the AAC. You know the narrowest margin of victory between the two teams since the conference came into existence? 10 points. Not even single digits. I’d bet not a single AAC team gets within single digits on the Huskies this season.
Megan: Nope. I will be shocked if the Huskies don’t finish out their time in the AAC undefeated. South Florida is picked to finish second and their team is not as strong as it has been in past seasons.
Madigan: No. If this UConn team stays healthy, they will run through the American like usual.
Craziest thing Geno Auriemma says/does this year
Connolly: Geno will get so fed up with his team one game that he’ll ask the ref to eject him just so he doesn’t have to watch it anymore.
Megan: I don’t know what it will be, but given the added tension from the denial of Evina Westbrook’s waiver, the post-game press conference against Tennessee seems like the prime time for Geno to make one of his craziest remarks of the season.
Madigan: Geno says that “no one believes in us” after a loss this year or pokes fun at the fans’ inability to get into home games on time because they accidentally tore off their barcode beforehand.
Wildcard/hot take/anything you want to say
Connolly: Crystal Dangerfield sets the program record for the most assists in a game. The current mark is 13, held by three different players. Dangerfield dished out 12 last season against ECU.
Megan: Olivia Nelson-Ododa is going to average a double-double. This is partially because during conference play she will consistently be the best center on the floor. But last season, she averaged approximately four points and 4 boards a game in just 14 minutes. With her increased minutes, and also a higher level of play from last season, she’ll easily notch a lot of double-doubles this season.
Madigan: Just like last year, this year’s matchup against DePaul is a big time trap game. It’s right after a big-time matchup against Notre Dame at Gampel and is the second-to-last game of the season before the holiday break. Doug Bruno’s DePaul teams are always skilled, tough, and usually play the Huskies well. If Auriemma and the Huskies aren’t careful, it could be a surprise loss for them.