Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.
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From The UConn Blog and Storrs Central:
Note to readers: There are no new stories from our websites this week, but Geno Auriemma, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams will all be available to the media on Thursday (Oct. 1). Follow me on Twitter @DanielVConnolly for updates through out the day and keep your eyes on The UConn Blog and Storrs Central for the coverage to follow.
Last week’s Weekly:
- Women’s college basketball’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: South Carolina still on top, Baylor rising (ESPN) — UConn comes in at No. 4.
- Don’t Get Star-Struck Playing Sue Bird. She’s Here to Win. (New York Times)
- UConn president Thomas Katsouleas: ‘Not too soon but before too long,’ fans can attend UConn games (Hearst CT)
- WNBA superstar Sue Bird gives college basketball’s newest sensation some advice on playing at UConn under Geno Auriemma (Insider)
In The News
UConn’s 2021 class ranked No. 3 in the country
ESPN released its 2021 recruiting class rankings on Tuesday and the Huskies checked in at No. 3 behind South Carolina and North Carolina. UConn has three players committed so far: Caroline Ducharme (No. 5), Amari DeBerry (No. 15) and Saylor Poffenbarger (No. 30). DeBerry drew a comparison to Olivia Nelson-Ododa with “her elite size, length and mobility” while Poffenbarger was described as “a versatile guard who has 3-point range and size to post up in the paint.”
The caveat, of course, is that the No. 1 player in the class, Azzi Fudd, remains uncommitted and can’t make an official visits prior to the November signing period, which may delay her decision even more. ESPN notes that the Huskies are still in the mix for the much-hyped prospect, though.
Natalie Butler signs in Greece
Former UConn center Natalie Butler signed with Pas Giannina in Ioannina, a town located in the west of Greece. She played in Belgium in 2018-19 and Romania this past season. Butler spent played at UConn from 2015-17 after transferring in from Georgetown but left the Huskies for George Mason for her final season of eligibility. There, she set the NCAA record for rebounds in a season with 563 and tied the all-time record with 33 double-doubles.
She’s the ninth former Husky to sign in Europe, joining Evelyn Adebayo (Phantoms Boom, Belgium), Napheesa Collier (Hatay Büyükşehir Belediyespor, Turkey), Bria Hartley (Galatasaray Basketbol, Turkey) — though she is out for the season after tearing her ACL — Katie Lou Samuelson (CB Avenida, Spain), Batouly Camara (CB Bembibre, Spain) and Megan Walker and Gabby Williams (Sopron Basket, Hungary).
Point guard problems
UConn women’s basketball lost six players from its roster last season due to graduation and the WNBA Draft, but none leave a bigger hole for the Huskies to fill than Crystal Dangerfield. The diminutive point guard was UConn’s best player wire-to-wire and one of the top floor generals in the nation last season. That’s not easy to replace, and the Huskies don’t have an obvious fill in for Dangerfield, even with highly-hyped Paige Bueckers now on the roster.
In fact, no single player can replace Dangerfield when the ball goes up in UConn’s first game, whenever that is. There are plenty of candidates to fill her spot in the starting lineup, but none stand out above the rest.
However, that may not matter. Replacing Dangerfield shouldn’t be looked as one-for-one switch where a single player will take over all the point guard duties. Instead, UConn may use a completely different strategy all together.
After UConn’s 94-55 win over Memphis in February, Geno Auriemma was asked if Anna Makurat could play point guard in the future. His answer provided insight into what the Huskies might do in the wake of Dangerfield’s departure.
“Our best teams have either had one point guard who is at a whole ‘nother level than anybody else in the country — and we’ve had a bunch of those — or we just spread it around. And that’s not to say Anna can’t be the point guard or Crystal can’t be the point guard — our offense should be that we need playmakers out on the floor,” Auriemma said. “The more times Anna has the ball in her hands, the more times Crystal can become a scorer. The more times she doesn’t have to handle the ball, the less pressure [there is] to have to make plays...We need another playmaker out there and [Anna’s] a great playmaker.”
In short: UConn doesn’t need a singular point guard on the floor as long as it has a few playmakers. And if the Huskies can effectively run their offense without everything going through one player, it makes them much more dynamic and difficult to guard — especially on the break.
“If we throw it [to] Crystal and Christyn (Williams), now that’s two [playmakers]. And now all of a sudden Anna’s looking up floor and throwing. Now that’s three [playmakers] and it just changes everything,” Auriemma said. “You’re able to use the whole floor coming up in transition and that’s changed [everything]. It’s gotten Liv (Nelson-Ododa) more touches in the lane, it just has a trickle-down effect.”
So ultimately, UConn may not designate one player to run the offense but instead may use more of a point guard by committee approach. But even if that is the case, the Huskies will likely tap one player to bring the ball up the court each time with the remainder of point guard duties spread out among a few other players.
If there were odds for such a thing, Evina Westbrook would be the favorite to be the Huskies’ primary ball handler. Christyn Williams, meanwhile, said last season that she can play the point “if push comes to shove” but it’s not her ideal position. Makurat has the court vision for the position (she finished second on the team with 105 assists as a freshman last season) and did so with her team in Poland, but her ball handling may not be up to par for the task.
There’s also Bueckers and Nika Muhl, but Auriemma typically shies away from handing freshmen the reigns to the offense — especially early in the season. The last two times the Huskies brought in highly-touted point guards, a veteran player still took the lion’s share of minutes at the point.
When Moriah Jefferson was a freshman in 2012-13, Kelly Faris played nearly 400 minutes in 39 games while Jefferson saw just 182 minutes in an equal amount of games. Fast forward a few years later to the year after Jefferson graduated and Saniya Chong played 289 minutes in 25 games with Dangerfield mostly coming off the bench for 188 minutes in 31 games.
This year’s rotation may not break down as clean as “starter” and “backup” but Auriemma will likely use something similar. If some combination of Westbrook, Williams and Makurat can handle most of the point guard duties early on, that allows Bueckers and Muhl to settle in and just try to make plays without worrying about trying to run the offense.
Auriemma often says that he tries to not put too much on a freshman’s plate and instead just give them a few things to do that’ll help the team. If either Bueckers or Muhl proves later in the season that they can handle more responsibility, then we could see one of them take on a larger role.
But ultimately, UConn doesn’t have a player that can immediately step in and run the offense like Dangerfield did. So instead of trying to use one player to replace her, the Huskies may just use everybody.
Best of social media
There’s never too much throwback Sue Bird content:
Of course Renee Montgomery has a stuffed Husky:
I got that Ethernet connection and now folks are all looky looky. It’s a Husky Dog and his name is Sparky https://t.co/Yvrrrn53ZL— Renee Montgomery (@ReneeMontgomery) August 27, 2020
Gabby Williams has arrived in Hungary:
It’s always amazing that for a program that has seen some of the greatest basketball players ever pass through, UConn only has five triple-doubles in its history: