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UConn women’s basketball opponent previews | Tier 1: the contenders

The Huskies’ schedule is highlighted by six of the top ten teams in the AP Preseason Poll.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn’s non-conference schedule is as tough as it gets this season. The Huskies will face six of the top ten teams in the AP Preseason Poll throughout the regular season, starting with its second game of the season. With these games spaced out between November and early February, there will be plenty of chances to measure where this team stands amongst the nation’s best ahead of March.

No. 3 Texas (November 14)

The second game of the Huskies’ season will be a big test, with No. 3 Texas making the trip to Storrs. The Longhorns boasted a top ten defense according to Her Hoop Stats last season, which earned them a trip to their second straight Elite Eight under head coach Vic Shaefer.

Texas still has some questions to answer — but that’s true of every team in the top tier this season. That said, the Longhorns have made strides in the transfer portal to address some of their offensive woes from last season and boast one of the most intriguing backcourts in the country. Rori Harmon, who shined in her freshman year with 11.5 points and 5.0 assists per game, returns for her sophomore season alongside two graduate transfers. Shalyee Gonzales averaged over 18 points per game last season with BYU and DePaul transfer Sonya Morris averaged 17.6 points for the Blue Demons last season. It’s very early, but the Texas offense already looks much improved after dropping 105 points on DePaul in a charity exhibition game last Sunday.

No. 10 NC State (November 20)

This Wolfpack team will look very different from the one that gave UConn a double-overtime thriller in last year’s Elite Eight. NC State returns just one starter, Jakia Brown-Turner, from last season’s lineup but does include several key pieces from the bench, including Diamond Johnson. The Wolfpack has also reloaded in the transfer portal, most notably adding Mimi Collins (Maryland) and Saniya Rivers (South Carolina).

While the new faces boast plenty of talent, it is hard to replace the experience the Wolfpack had in last year’s lineup. It’s likely that this team will take some time to figure things out at the beginning of the season and will have to answer some questions. The same can be said for UConn, but in the case of this matchup, the Huskies have a bit more continuity on their side which should be able to carry them to an early season victory.

No. 4 Iowa (November 27)

This game is not guaranteed, but it’s the likely end of the Iowa-Oregon State matchup that the Huskies will face in the second game of the Phil Knight tournament over Thanksgiving weekend in Portland. With Caitlin Clark returning for her junior season after leading the country in both scoring and assists last year, this matchup should pose a good test for the Huskies’ perimeter defense, which is unproven beyond Nika Mühl heading into the season.

Monika Czinano should also present a good defensive test for UConn’s frontcourt. Czinano was the most efficient scorer in the country last season, scoring 1.31 points per play at a high volume with 21.2 points per game. Beyond Clark and Czinano, however, the Huskies will have the edge talent-wise at the other three positions on the floor in this matchup. If the defense can be effective on the Hawkeyes duo, UConn should be able to take home a statement victory from Oregon.

No. 9 Notre Dame (December 4)

Another big test for the Huskies’ backcourt will follow their Thanksgiving weekend tournament. Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles looks poised to be one of the most intriguing guards in the country this season. After leading the Irish all season with 13.7 points per game last year, she exploded on the national stage with a triple-double in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and scored 21 points in Notre Dame’s narrow Sweet Sixteen loss to NC State.

The Irish also return three other starters from last year’s squad including Sonia Citron, who impressed in her freshman season. They also added Texas graduate transfer Lauren Ebo as well, who should give them a forceful presence in the paint to replace Maya Dodson. Notre Dame is poised to be back amongst the top ten for this season and should contend for an ACC title.

No. 5 Tennessee (January 26)

This year’s Volunteers squad looks much different from the team that UConn throttled at the XL Center last season. Tennessee did as good of a job reloading in the transfer portal as any team in the country, adding two proven scorers (Rickea Jackson from Mississippi State and Jasmine Franklin from Missouri State) to a team that struggled frequently on the offensive end last season.

Tennessee also returns much of its core from last season, most notably Jordan Horston and Tamari Key, which helps bring the size and defensive intensity it had last year. This team could take a little bit to figure things out with new additions, but the Vols have the talent to be a national contender come January if things come together as expected.

No. 1 South Carolina (February 5)

The Gamecocks once again mark the premier non-conference matchup on the Huskies’ schedule as the preseason No. 1 team in the country and favorites to repeat with another national title. They’ll also once again boast the biggest defensive challenge for UConn’s frontcourt with reigning national player of the year Aliyah Boston entering her senior year in Columbia.

Aside from Destanni Henderson, who played a large role in securing South Carolina’s national title last season, the Gamecocks return all of their major role players from last season’s team. With another talented freshman class and some solid transfer portal additions, South Carolina clearly tops the ranks in terms of roster talent and will once again boast a deep and versatile roster. The February timing of this matchup will provide an excellent measuring stick of where the Huskies stand ahead of March and what their chances at a 15th consecutive Final Four or 12th national title might look like.