Women's Basketball

Q&A with The Daily Campus UConn beat writer, Dan Madigan

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Syracuse hopes to end UConn's record 108-game winning streak on Monday.

No. 8 seed Syracuse (22-10, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) faces its biggest challenge of the season against No. 1 overall seed and four-time defending national champion Connecticut (33-0, 16-0 American Athletic) on Monday night at the Gampel Pavilion. The Orange will try to avenge last year’s national championship game loss and stop UConn’s 108-game winning streak.

Connecticut beat writer Dan Madigan of The Daily Campus, the independent student newspaper of UConn, answered a few questions for The Daily Orange ahead of the matchup.

The Daily Orange: How did UConn manage to remain so good even after losing its three best players from last year?

Dan Madigan: After losing the three-headed monster of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, no one expected the Huskies to be this good this fast—not even head coach Geno Auriemma. This team’s success has been almost single-handedly due to the rapid development of sophomores Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier. Samuelson has evolved from just a knockdown 3-point shooter to a dangerous and well-rounded scorer. She has no problem taking smaller defenders down low and posting them up for easy buckets, and will take taller defenders outside and hit from deep. Collier is an excellent rebounder and talented scorer in her own right. Although Collier primarily does most of her damage down low in the post, she has the ability to step out and hit open 3-pointers to keep defenders off balance. The rapid maturation of these two players combined with a starting five that can constantly switch and guard any position has helped the Huskies stay on top this season.

The D.O.: Who is one player on UConn who doesn’t get as much hype, but people should watch out for?

D.M.: Saniya Chong is without a doubt the most underrated player on the team. After struggling to find a spot in the rotation her first two years and dealing with an injury last season, Chong has been a steady presence in the Huskies’ backcourt in her final season at UConn. After coming to UConn as a prolific scorer, Chong has evolved into a solid defender and an excellent passer. She led all of Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio for much of this season and currently resides in the top five in the statistic. On top of her all-around skills, Chong also has a knack for hitting big shots. She won’t lead the Huskies in scoring or any category, but does a great job of pretty much everything. She’s the glue that holds this team together.

The D.O.: How do you think Connecticut will contend with the Orange press? Will it go deeper into the bench than it normally does? What elements do the bench players bring to the game?

D.M.: In big games, Auriemma uses a seven-person lineup: starters Samuelson, Collier, Chong, Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse plus freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield and center Natalie Butler. In an up-tempo game like this one will likely be, Butler usually plays noticeably fewer minutes. However, due to the press and Nurse, still just a few games back from an ankle injury, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auriemma insert Dangerfield a little earlier into the game than usual. Dangerfield is small but shifty point guard that Auriemma uses to change the tempo of the game. She’s a talented passer and scorer, but struggles on defense at times due to her size. Butler is a 6-foot-5 center who is an elite rebounder and a decent shot-blocker. She can do damage in the post and also will step out and hit elbow jumpers. Both players have had their moments with UConn this season, but Dangerfield is much more likely to make an impact due to her speed and offensive skills.

The D.O.: What, if any, vulnerabilities do the Huskies have? Has there been a game this year where you’ve seen another team sustain success against Connecticut? If so, how can it be done?

D.M.: While this team has a perfect record like last year’s squad, it still has its share of flaws. Due to the lack of significant size other than Butler, rebounding has been an issue at times. While UConn plays great defense, bigger or stronger players usually can have their way down low and come up with more rebounds than last year’s team allowed. Aside from that, the biggest issue is classic UConn problem: depth. As mentioned earlier, the Huskies really only use seven players consistently. If there’s foul trouble—or even worse, an injury—this team runs into problems. When Nurse was out with her ankle injury, Tulane was able to stick around much longer than it probably should have. Collier has a tendency to get in foul trouble at times, and when she is out of the game, UConn really struggles on the boards even with Williams in the game.

To build off that, this team is much more beatable than last year’s team. Teams like Maryland, Florida State and Tulane have hung around with the Huskies. The Terrapins hung with UConn by working down low on offense and on the boards and being efficient on offense. Tulane stuck around due to some foul trouble from Collier and from shooting well from the 3-point line. Florida State came the closest to winning by doing both of those things (shooting the 3 and rebounding) really well. If teams can be efficient on offense, exploit UConn’s lack of size on both ends and get Collier and/or Samuelson in foul trouble, an upset is more than likely.

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