UConn women take long journey face Oregon

Published on Monday, 17 January 2022 12:37
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

At least the UConn women’s basketball team had the comforts of a charter flight Sunday for its cross-country trip. The 10th-ranked Huskies take on Oregon today at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.

But in the wonderful world of scheduling, as coach Geno Auriemma refers to it, UConn didn’t get any favors from the Big East.

Instead of the Huskies playing a conference game in the Midwest - say against Butler (Wednesday’s opponent in Indianapolis) or DePaul or Creighton to make the journey to Oregon a little easier - UConn was at the XL Center Saturday and posted a 78-41 win over Xavier.

So UConn traveled 3,000 miles Sunday and will do it again tonight after the game for the start of spring semester classes Tuesday.

“Having a trip like that is definitely tough mentally and physically, but we just have to stay locked in, especially mentally, because that is where it begins,” UConn senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa said. “We just need to go there and do what we need to do.”

Today’s contest is the back end of a home-and-home series with the Ducks and is UConn’s first January game in the Pacific time zone. It also serves as a homecoming game for Huskies’ fifth-year senior and Salem, Oregon native Evina Westbrook, though the series was agreed to before Westbrook decided to transfer from Tennessee to UConn in May 2019.

Oregon picked up its first victory in four tries against UConn in 2020 as it rolled past the Huskies 74-56, the worst loss for the home team since Gampel Pavilion opened in 1990. The Ducks were playing their third road game in five nights, though the Pac-12 did have the sense to schedule them at Utah and at Colorado - the most eastern schools in the conference - before they headed to Storrs.

“It is definitely a memory that I keep with me,” Nelson-Ododa said.

The bad news for the Ducks coming into today is no one that played in the game for them that night is on their current roster.

The good news for Oregon, however, is that it is the most healthy it’s been all season. The Ducks (9-5) were ranked as high as No. 9 in the Associated Press poll in November before the injury bug bit. They are coming off Saturday’s come-from-behind overtime home win over No. 7 Arizona.

“They’ve kind of been up and down with a lot of injuries, a lot of players out, not knowing who is going to be in the lineup,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know what to expect from them because I don’t know who is going to be 100 percent.

“But they’re always good up there. They always shoot the ball great. They have tremendous size. Obviously they’re one of the best teams in the country when they’re 100 percent. If they are 100 percent on Monday, it’s going to be a tough assignment for us. Heck, if they are 80 percent it’s going to be tough. But it’s supposed to be.”

The Huskies (9-3) made it look easy on Saturday. Nelson-Ododa and freshman Caroline Ducharme stuffed the stat sheet while the defense recorded 16 steals and 15 blocked shots in the wire-to-wire win.

It’s no coincidence that they’ve been more energetic since Nika Muhl returned to the lineup after a right foot problem. The sophomore guard has scored only two points in her two starts, but that’s not where she makes a difference.

“It’s definitely great to be back with my team and help them in games,” Muhl said. “I feel good physically and mentally but I’m still limited in time a little bit.

“Every time I come in I’m trying to set a tone defensively. I’m trying to bring the energy that we need or whatever the team needs me to do. I know they trust me to always bring stuff like that.”

They’ll need everything Muhl brings and more today.

Oregon erased a 17-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime and got a last-second basket from junior guard Endyia Rogers to stun Arizona before a crowd of 7,944 in Eugene Saturday.

Rogers was playing in only her fifth game of the season Sophomore guard Te-Hina Paopao has also played only five games while junior Nyara Sabally has played in seven. They are three of the Ducks’ five double-figure scorers.

UConn will look to build on last week’s efforts as it goes for a season-high fourth straight win.

“The Butler game was the first game this year we could actually sit back and say, ‘This was pretty good,’ and we could rest a little bit in the fourth quarter,” Auriemma said. “Every other game has been a grind, a grind, a grind. I think that toughens you up a little bit, and I think Monday will do that for us.

“If we win, that’s great. It will be a huge confidence boost for our guys if we win. If we don’t win, it will be like that South Carolina game. It depends how we don’t win. We’ll know more Monday night than we do now.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Monday, 17 January 2022 12:37. Updated: Monday, 17 January 2022 12:39.