UConn women's basketball sets sights on postseason

Published on Tuesday, 5 March 2019 21:30
Written by Carl Adamec

Journal Inquirer

TAMPA, Fla. - Napheesa Collier’s last regular season game for the UConn women’s basketball team played out much like her senior year has so far.

The second-ranked Huskies won their sixth consecutive American Athletic Conference championship and have put themselves in line for a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can tack on the league tourney title. But it hasn’t been all smooth and certainly not easy.

“It’s been a dogfight, especially compared to the other years I’ve been here,” Collier said. “Teams are getting better and they played hard against us this season. It wasn’t pretty all the time but we would always fight back as hard as we could.”

After having the fight taken to it by South Florida for 20 minutes Monday night, UConn responded in the third quarter and closed like a championship team in the fourth. The Huskies shut out the Bulls for the final 6:25, and the game-ending 9-0 run secured a 57-47 AAC win before an announced Senior Night crowd of 5,614 at the Yuengling Center.

“The second half we responded in a way we can take forward to the tournament,” UConn point guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “We were aggressive and when we put our minds to pressing we can turn people over. We had a pretty bad - as bad as we’ve had this season - first half. The second half we got it turned around.”

The Huskies (28-2 overall, 16-0 AAC) will be the top seed for the AAC Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena and will start their bid for a sixth straight crown with a quarterfinal game against either No. 8 East Carolina or ninth-seeded SMU Saturday at 2 p.m. The semifinals are Sunday and the championship game Monday.

UConn hopes to have Katie Lou Samuelson available for the weekend. The two-time All-American missed her first game of the season Monday night after suffering back spasms following a collision with Houston’s Julia Blackshell-Fair during the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Gampel Pavilion. She did not practice Sunday before traveling here with the team.

It didn’t take long for the Huskies to show how much they missed their senior star.

“The game plan coming in was to be disruptive and to get South Florida out of their rhythm,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We were never able to do that in the first half. We didn’t make any shots. We knew going in that without Lou it was going to be hard to get anything done in the lane. They’re not going to stretch out on anyone but Lou.

“The last 20 minutes I thought we played with a certain intensity level that was really fun to watch. That’s what it’s going to take this time of year.”

The inspired Bulls led the uninspired Huskies by as many as nine before settling for a 29-25 edge at the break.

“It was pretty embarrassing how we came out in the first half,” Collier said.

UConn, though, turned up the full-court pressure in the third quarter to force 10 turnovers with the aid of freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa - who started for Samuelson - and sophomore Mikayla Coombs.

Nelson-Ododa didn’t score but had five of her six rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots while playing the entire second half. Coombs also made a difference in her 20 minutes off the bench with a pair of steals and a strong third-quarter drive to the basket.

“If Olivia does what she did in the second half and she does it every game, she’s a factor in the game,” Auriemma said. “Just like Mikayla. That’s what we need them to be.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Tuesday, 5 March 2019 21:30. Updated: Tuesday, 5 March 2019 21:32.