The UConn women’s basketball team’s season is over, falling in the Final Four to Notre Dame yet again. The loss stings even more when considering the fact that the Huskies are losing Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson to graduation, two of the best to don a UConn uniform.
So what happens now? It’s not like the rest of the country will go easy on the Huskies after losing their two best players. UConn will be expected to be a top team yet again, even with the heavy losses.
Next year will undoubtedly be Crystal Dangerfield’s team. The senior point guard is the eldest returning starter and will take an even bigger leadership role next season. Dangerfield was great as the floor general this past season, finishing with the program’s best assist-to-turnover ratio in a season at 3.08 while tying Sue Bird for the best assist average in a season at 5.9 per game.
While Dangerfield averaged 13.4 points per game, she will need to take on a heavier scoring load next season with UConn losing a combined 38.3 points per game from Collier and Samuelson. Too often, Dangerfield would have cold nights from the floor like against Notre Dame, when she shot 2-11 for four points and didn’t make a three. The Murfreesboro, Tennessee native has been really good for the Huskies the last two seasons. Next year, she will need to be great.
After a disappointing freshman campaign, Walker broke out as a sophomore by earning a starting spot and averaging 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. She steadily improved as the season went on to become arguably UConn’s most consistent player in the NCAA Tournament. Walker did her job well by grabbing rebounds and scoring when the defense gave her looks.
Next year, the Huskies will rely on the former No. 1 recruit even more and Walker will need to score by not just taking what the defense gives her but also beating the defense when focus is put on her. Her ability to play both inside and out will create matchup problems for opposing teams and help counteract UConn’s lack of size for next season.
Williams concludes one of the best freshmen seasons in recent memory, averaging 11.7 points per game while starting every single game. Despite a mid-year slump, typical for a freshman, Williams found her groove at the end of the season, reaching double-figures in her last nine games.
This year, UConn just needed her to score. But as a sophomore, Williams will need to get more involved without the basketball while also taking on even more of a scoring load. Having such a strong freshman year is a great base for Williams to work off and will help her take a big leap this summer. There’s no reason not to expect her to become not only one of the Huskies’ top players but one of the best in the country.
With Collier gone, UConn will be expecting Olivia Nelson-Ododa to slide into the starting five as a sophomore. In her freshman campaign, Nelson-Ododa slowly came along before really breaking out in the AAC Tournament with Samuelson sidelined. She was a force defensively with her shot-blocking ability and used her long arms to grab rebounds.
The biggest area for her to build on is scoring. Nelson-Ododa showed a knack for strong post moves that got her good looks but she struggled with touch around the rim. Later in the year, she flashed her ability to not only knock down jumpers but also drive to the hoop. Nelson-Ododa is already a strong shot-blocker and rebounder but if she become a consistent scoring threat, UConn will be much of difficult to defend next season.
While it’s easy to pencil the four players above into next year’s starting lineup, the Huskies have a big hole for the No. 5 spot. Here’s a look at some of the returning players.
UPDATE: Coombs is transferring from UConn.
Even as a sophomore, Coombs is still a work in progress. Her career high in points in six and she’s never made a 3-pointer in college. However, Coombs flashed her abilities on defense in the AAC Tournament and appeared to gain some confidence heading into the summer.
UConn needs something out of the former McDonalds’ All-American next season. If she can give the Huskies strong defense and rebounding to start the year, the coaching staff can work on helping her find the bucket as the season goes on. Coombs is good at getting to the basket but needs to work on finishing. Auriemma says the summer going into junior year is the make-or-break point for players, so these next few months will be critical for Coombs.
UConn fans love Molly Bent. Few players get as loud of cheer from the Husky faithful than the rising senior guard and during her junior year, Bent started to give her fans something to cheer about. The sample size is small but Bent hit 11-20 3-pointers on the year and she cut her turnovers in half from last season. There was progress, however small or incremental.
Now, Bent needs to turn those flashes into consistency. There’s no reason she can’t come off the bench and be disruptive on defense while giving the Huskies a decent 3-point option. It’s all mental with Bent. If she can overcome that, the Centerville, Massachusetts native could have a solid senior season.
Once a highly-touted transfer from Kentucky, injuries seemed to have derailed Camara’s career. She played in a team-low 25 games and even when she did come in, it wouldn’t be until the last few minutes of a blowout. Maybe if she can stay healthy and have a good summer, Camara could be a strong big to come off the bench and grab rebounds. But after all she’s been through, it’s hard to see that happening.
When Megan Walker missed two games with strep throat, Auriemma gave Kyla Irwin her first career starts. Against St. Louis, Irwin grabbed 10 rebounds in 25 minutes of play followed up with a six-point, two rebound performance against Seton Hall. But Irwin couldn’t build on that success the rest of the year and remained on the end of the bench.
Irwin showed she can have a role on this team by rebounding. But like Bent and Camara, is it too late to expect her to do so?
As of this writing, UConn only has one incoming player for next season in McDonalds’ All-American Aubrey Griffin. The Huskies are expected to look for players in Europe while also exploring the grad transfer market. With just nine scholarship players on the roster for next season, UConn desperately needs to add some depth over the summer.
Griffin is the only player in UConn’s 2019 recruiting class and is the No. 33 prospect in said class. However, Auriemma is very high on the incoming freshman and thinks her ranking might be due to a knee injury suffered her sophomore year of high school.
“Aubrey Griffin is a really good player. She fits us perfectly,” Auriemma said back in November. “She’s longer, she’s 6-1, she’s exactly what we need. We need somebody like that. She’s going to be terrific for us and she’s the nicest kid in the world.”
The Ossining, New York native — the same hometown as former Huskies Saniya Chong and Andra Espinoza-Hunter — earned national recognition by being named to the McDonald’s All-American game. By all accounts, Griffin is much better than her rankings indicate and could step into the starting lineup next season, even as a freshman.