UConn women’s basketball faces one last non-conference test before March on Monday night when the Huskies travel to face the top-ranked team in the country, South Carolina.
The Huskies have a lot on the line in this one. Their record of 20-2 is strong but lacks a signature win. With losses to No. 2 Baylor and No. 3 Oregon, this is their last chance to secure a win over one of the top teams in the country. It is also likely UConn’s final chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — something that’s still even possible thanks to back-to-back losses from Louisville this weekend.
Getting the win won’t be an easy task for the Huskies. The Gamecocks are 22-1 and haven’t lost since Thanksgiving weekend. They have signature wins over Baylor (also over Thanksgiving, although sans Lauren Cox) and Mississippi State.
South Carolina is a bigger team which, at least thus far this season, looks like the favorite in this matchup. In good news for the Huskies is the one area where the Gamecocks don’t out-match them is with experience. South Carolina starts three freshman in Aaliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, and Brea Beal alongside seniors Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Hebert Harrigan to that lineup.
The Gamecocks boasted the top recruiting class in the country this year and their freshmen are not playing like freshmen. Boston, especially, has arrived on the NCAA scene as a sensation and quickly emerged as a superstar. She averages 13.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, and ranks among the top 30 in the country in field goal percentage, offensive rebound rate, and block rate.
UConn needs to contain Boston, a task that will likely fall on the shoulders of Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Nelson-Ododa has shown bursts of strong improvement this season but as of late, has often been relegated to the bench. She had an excellent few days of practice following the loss to Oregon last Monday, and an impressive 19 point, 7 rebound outing against Memphis Friday night. UConn needs that version of Nelson-Ododa on the court Monday to get the win.
Even still, South Carolina has a balanced scoring effort with four players averaging in double figures. As a whole team, they score over 83 points per game. The Huskies will need not just Nelson-Ododa to perform, but a full team defensive effort and strong offensive outing to secure the signature win their resume wins.
Keys to the game for UConn:
Crashing the glass: Unsurprisingly given their size, South Carolina is an elite rebounding team. The Gamecocks are the best team in the country on the offensive glass, and limiting their second chance opportunities will be essential for the Huskies. Look for Nelson-Ododa and Megan Walker to carry the brunt of the burden of keeping them off the offensive boards, with Aubrey Griffin being an important player off the bench.
Can everyone show up?: In individual games, UConn has shown that they have all the pieces needed to be an elite team. But, they’ve failed to put them all together especially in big games. Monday night serves as a final test before March to determine if UConn can execute on both ends of the floor and get strong appearances out of all of their key pieces when they need it the most.
A strong offensive outing: Often it isn’t the Huskies’ defense that’s the problem this season, but their offense. UConn needs to find a way to score even when baskets aren’t easy to come by. Given that the Gamecocks average nearly 14 turnovers per game, getting out in transition for some easy buckets to gain momentum could be a good start.
How to watch:
Where: Columbia, South Carolina
When: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network, 97.9 ESPN Hartford