The last time UConn and Oregon met, the Ducks were a footnote to history. In the Elite Eight of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the Huskies dispatched 10-seed Oregon 90-52 to secure its 111th win it a row. That also happened to be the final victory of the longest streak in Division I basketball history.
Now, entering Monday night’s matchup with UConn, the Ducks are anything but a footnote. No longer the underdog, Oregon is No. 3 team in the nation and one of the favorites to win the national title.
But this isn’t a surprise to Geno Auriemma. Even though his team crushed the Ducks when they met three years ago, he saw through the score to their potential.
“You could see then that they were going to be really good,” Auriemma said. “I think they beat Maryland that day in one of the games and it was a big upset. But you could see then that they just weren’t ready for us. We just had too many good players and they were too young to be able to deal with what we had. But you could see they were only going to get better and better and better. They recruited really well, added the right pieces.”
With players like superstar Sabrina Ionescu and Minyon Moore, Oregon’s backcourt is among the best in the country. The Ducks took a formula that UConn used for success and made it their own.
“No matter how much it changes, basketball’s always about if you have the best guards, you have a chance to have the best team,” Auriemma said. ”And when you don’t have the best guards, you’re always going to struggle against the teams that have the best guards. We’ve been fortunate here over the years, we’ve had some great, great, great guards. They’re in that situation right now and that’s why they’re able to do what they do.”
In the three years since that last meeting, the tables have turned on UConn. It isn’t the heavy favorite anymore, all but guaranteed a win. Instead, Oregon will be expected to come out on top by most while Auriemma wonders if his team has enough to keep up with it.
It’s not if the Huskies don’t have the players or the talent to keep up with the Ducks — they do. But UConn hasn’t gotten a consistent performance from its entire rotation yet this season. For the Huskies to knock off Oregon, that needs to happen on Monday night.
“More so than most years I can remember, it’s gotta be ‘Okay, we have to play this game 5-on-5 and that’s how we gotta win’ as opposed to, I remember a couple years ago whether it was at Notre Dame or it was here against Louisville, ‘Gabby (Williams) is going to win this game by herself’ or ‘Pheesa (Collier) is going to get 35 in this game tonight and she’s going win this game by herself.’ We’ve had enough of those players over the years that it took some of the pressure off some of the other guys. This year the pressures on all of them because they all have to play great. That’s why you need superstars.”
On Sunday at UConn’s final practice before Oregon, Christyn Williams sat on the sideline while her team ran through various drills. The sophomore has been dealing with the flu and was only just allowed to return to the team, according to Auriemma.
Despite not practicing the last few days, Williams told Auriemma that she’s expecting to play on Monday. The question won’t be whether or not she’ll play, it’s how much she can play and at what level.
Evelyn Adebayo also did not participate in team drills during the media portion of practice. She appeared to receive treatment on her left shoulder from Amanda Kimball, the team’s Director of Sports Performance. Her status for tomorrow’s game is unclear.
Batouly Camara continues to work her way back and participated fully for at least the first 30 minutes of practice. Against Cincinnati, she warmed up with the team and dressed in uniform, but did not participate.
If both Adebayo and Camara are unable to go, UConn will be down to just eight healthy players — including the recovering Williams.
When UConn returned to practice on Saturday after its win over Cincinnati, there was a new, old face coaching: Jamelle Elliot. After the team announced assistant coach Jasmine Lister would step away for personal reasons, Elliot — a former player and assistant under Auriemma — took over those coaching duties.
While it’s convenient to have a former coach already working in the athletic department, Elliot’s return to the sidelines wasn’t planned. In fact, if she had it her way, Elliot wouldn’t be returning at all.
“It’s not something that Jamelle wants to do, wanted to do, campaigned to do,” Auriemma said. “Matter of fact, she avoided me every chance she got even thinking that I might ask her to do it, so I think she’s doing it as a favor like ‘Alright, I’ll help you out because you’re in a tight spot’ That’s it.”
However, Auriemma is still glad to have the former Cincinnati head coach back on his side. During the part of Saturday’s practice open to the media, Elliot was already all-in, working with the post players on one of the side courts at Gampel.
“There’s no denying that when she’s here, she’s on the court, she has an impact. That’s undeniable. So we’re very lucky. And the players are very lucky as well.”
Visitors to practice
It was a busy day for visitors at UConn’s practice on Sunday. The Huskies hosted at least two prospects: 2022 guard KK Bransford came in during the early part of practice open to media while 2021 commit Saylor Poffenbarger arrived later, according to her Instagram. Bransford is rated as the top guard in her class and the No. 9 player overall while Poffenbarger is the 17th-ranked player in next year’s class.
A pair of former players were also in attendance. Kelly Farris worked out with the team before practice while Asjha Jones watched with fellow Washington Mystics assistant Eric Thibault.