Different kind of challenge awaits UConn on Sunday
The Huskies, playing their first regular-season game following the departure of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, seemingly had control of the Nov. 14 game with an eight-point lead and less than 2 1/2 minutes left to play.
Napheesa Collier's clutch block enabled the Huskies to turn a one-point lead into a two-point cushion but still, Imani Wright's buzzer-beating 3-pointer didn't miss by much or else the Huskies would have returned home with a loss.
With the next game against Baylor as well as contests against fellow ranked teams DePaul and Texas to say nothing of the one on the road against preseason No. 1 Notre Dame, it seemed more like a case of when and not if the Huskies would taste defeat for the first time.
UConn is sitting pretty at 8-0 after beating three ranked teams in a week's time and the Huskies are back at their familiar perch atop the Associated Press poll.
The Huskies have shown toughness that some, even their own head coach, wondered if they possessed. Geno Auriemma questioned his team's toughness and admitted that he wanted to see nothing more than to see somebody take down his team.
"His response was definitely appropriate, we weren't showing that toughness," UConn junior forward Gabby Williams said. "At times we don't and it is hard to be for 40 minutes (in games) and every day in practice. We just have to suck it up and say if we want to do something great, we are going to have to be."
More ranked teams await with Ohio State coming to Hartford on Dec. 19 and the Huskies playing at Maryland on Dec. 29. There will also be a February date with South Carolina and two games with South Florida, which recently broke into the top 25.
Before all of that, however, UConn needs to play on the road against undefeated Kansas State, a team that beat North Carolina State by 17, LSU by 15 and nationally-ranked Auburn by five. Oh, the Huskies will also be playing in front of more than 12,000 fans on Sunday.
There's likely to be some sort of emotional release after the impressive win over Notre Dame but not being 100 percent focused on Kansas State would be a major mistake. With two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman have averaged the most minutes per game this season, this is going to be a test of the Huskies' maturity against a Kansas State team featuring one of the nation's best shot blockers in Breanna Lewis as well as Kindred Weserman, who heads into the weekend tied for 20th nationally with 28 3-pointers.
"It is a process and we have done a good job of making sure we are taking huge steps forward while minimizing the steps we take back," UConn junior guard Kia Nurse said.
Playing five games in five different arenas in a span of 13 games, there's no question that the UConn players are probably a bit tired especially mentally. Sunday's game will be a perfect chance for the team to prove to their demanding coaching staff and to themselves how far they have come even since the season opener.
"It means a lot in terms of seeing where we are at in the season," Williams said. "At the end of the day, there are 30 more games that we have to play so I think this is a good marker for where we are. We can be physical, we can handle that kind of pressure."