How to watch
When: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)
Preseason poll: 9th
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Head coach: Melanie Moore
In four games this season, Xavier has already tied its win total from last year. The Musketeers are off to a 3-1 start following a miserable 3-27 campaign in 2019-20.
Overall, Xavier is middle of the pack in most offensive and defensive categories. The Musketeers average 76.5 points per game but allow 72.5 ppg on the other end.
Xavier does, however, excel at drawing fouls and gets to the free-throw line on just over 20 percent of its two-point scoring attempts, per Her Hoops Stats. Almost a quarter of its total points come from the charity stripe, 39th-best in the country.
The Musketeers also clean up on the offensive glass, grabbing 44.4 percent of offensive rebounding opportunities. That is 10th-best in the nation according to Her Hoops Stats.
Defensively, Xavier averages 14.0 steals per game — third-most of any Division I team. The Musketeers also block 5.8 shots each game, 23rd-most.
Senior point guard Aaliyah Dunham is a floor general in the truest sense. She leads Xavier in minutes and dishes out just over five assists per game. She’s also good for a couple of buckets every contest. Nia Clark is the team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game but does most of her damage inside the arc with just two three-point attempts on the year.
A’riana Gray and Kaelynn Satterfield both average 8.8 rebounds per game, with Satterfield collecting 3.8 of those on the offensive glass. Defensively, Ayanna Townsend (1.8) and Lauren Wasylson (1.5) anchor the Musketeers in blocks.
UConn and Xavier have only ever met once, back in the 1999 NCAA Tournament when the eighth-seeded Musketeers gave the No. 1 Huskies a run for their money. UConn trailed by six with just over two minutes left, but forced two quick turnovers to tie the game at 84-84 with a minute remaining.
On an ensuing possession, Svetlana Abrosimova fouled Xavier’s Nikki Kremer, who had made eight straight free throws at that point. Kremer missed both shots, however, and the game remained tied.
Out of a fast break from the second miss, UConn got a pair of looks at the basket — one from Shea Ralph and the other on a put-back from Amy Duran — but both missed. Luckily, Tamika Williams grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Kremer. Williams sank both shots with seven seconds left and the Musketeers missed a well-defended three-pointer just before the final buzzer sounded.
Geno Auriemma reminisced about that game following UConn’s win over Creighton on Thursday.
“They would have done us a favor by winning that game because then we went to Iowa State, and got our asses beat in Cincinnati by Iowa State,” he said, referring to UConn’s 64-58 Sweet Sixteen loss. “So I think they would have done us a favor if they would have beat us. You know what’s funny? In 1999, we had those five freshmen, right? So, very similar circumstances.”
By the numbers
15 — Paige Bueckers and Anna Makurat are tied for UConn’s team lead with 15 assists each while Evina Westbrook isn’t far behind with 13.
1 — UConn ranks first in three different categories so far this season: Opponent points per game (45.0), two-point field goal percentage (64.3%), and defensive rebounds per game (35.7).
300 — With the win over Creighton, UConn won its 300th game at Gampel Pavilion in the last 25 years. Over that same time span, the Huskies have only lost eight games (h/t The UConn Daily).
What to watch for
Rebounding battle — UConn and Xavier will match strength against strength on the boards. The Huskies enter the game as the best defensive rebounding team in the nation while Musketeers crash the offensive glass at an elite level. Though Olivia Nelson-Ododa should have a hefty size advantage, UConn will rely on its guards to help her out. Aaliyah Edwards, Aubrey Griffin, and Mir McLean will all have a big opportunity to step up as well.
Can Makurat and Westbrook break through? — Through three games, neither Anna Makurat (7.7 points per game) nor Evina Westbrook (5.0) has found the basket much. But both players had their moments in the second half against Creighton. Westbrook scored all eight of her points and looked more confident going to the hoop while Makurat made both her three-pointers in the final 20 minutes as well. The two have been key facilitators on offense, but UConn would benefit if both players picked up more of the scoring load.
Does Nelson-Ododa continue her string of impressive performances? — Once is a chance, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a trend. Nelson-Ododa scored 16 points and 24 points, respectively, in her last two games. Though that’s not atypical for the junior center — she’s reached the 15-point mark eight times in her career — she has historically struggled to consistently play at that level. On Saturday, Nelson-Ododa will have a chance to prove that her last two performances are the new norm, not a flash in the pan.