South Florida a worthy adversary as UConn goes for 90th straight win
South Florida already posted a signature conference win when it went on the road and beat an experienced, talented Tulane team. Now comes an even bigger road test when the Bulls play UConn at the XL Center.
With the graduation of Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins, the Bulls are counting on different players to produce offensively. It's hardly surprising to see reigning conference freshman of the year Kitija Laksa make the jump to become one of the nation's top scorers. The emergence of Maria Jespersen, Ariadna Pujol and Laia Flores into consistent scoring options has made it clear this is not a one-player show.
A season ago Jespersen, Pujol and Flores combined to average 11 points per game. Jespersen (14.4 points per game) and Pujol (14.1) have topped that number by themselves.
"They certainly are different from any other team in the country in that they have so many foreign-born players and just by their nature they play the game a little bit differently," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Their skills are a little different, they are better with the ball than most kids growing up in this country. They shoot the ball really well, they have experience playing against a higher level of competition and Jose does a really good job of getting his best players a lot of shots."
Laksa, the AAC's leading scorer at 21.6 points per game, is from Latvia, Pujol and Flores are natives of Spain while Jespersen hails from Denmark.
Time will tell how the game plays out but the Huskies are expecting to get their best shot from USF.
"They are not scared, they play every game with all of their heart every game," UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson said. "They are always aggressive, we are going to be ready to play and be ready from the very start."
Samuelson sees similarities between her role and that of Laksa for USF.
"I think she scores in a lot of different ways and we are going to do our best to guard her the way we can," Samuelson said. "It is kind of cool that she is doing what she is doing, it is great for our conference and for basketball so it is going to be a good game."
Obviously most of the attention will be on the Huskies' attempt to tie their own NCAA Division I record with their 90th win in a row, there is another streak that is flying under the radar.
From 2008-12 UConn won a program record 57 straight regular-season Big East games which is the fifth longest streak in NCAA Division I women's basketball history. This current group of Huskies can match that mark tonight. If the Huskies were to play 16 regular-season conference games, they would not have a chance to mark Texas' ridiculous mark of 124 straight victories against Southwest Conference foes until the 2020-21 season and in other words, when the current group of incoming freshmen would be seniors.
Speaking of the recruiting class of Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Lexi Gordon and Megan Walker, they were among the rather sizeable list of nominees for the McDonald's All-American Game. Thomaston's Casey Carangelo, who has signed with St. Francis (N.Y.) and Shelton's Sydney Lowery out of St. Luke's and a Boston College signee, are the only Connecticut girls nominated. The 16th annual girls' game will be played on March 29 at the United Center in Chicago.