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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

U19 experience proving to be beneficial for UConn's Dangerfield

Crystal Dangerfield had never made it to Italy before this summer. It's safe she is making up for lost time as she is preparing for her second trip there since the middle of July.

"I will get my dual citizenship," Dangerfield said with a laugh.

Before joining her UConn teammates as they leave for Italy on Saturday night for a tour including four exhibition games, she was the captain of the U.S. team which won a silver medal at the FIBA Women's World Cup last month.

Dangerfield was 8 for 19 in the first two games of the tournament but was just 16 of 63 the rest of the way including missed 14 of 20 shots in a loss to Russia in the gold medal game.

Some of Dangerfield's shooting woes coincided with her injuring her ankle during the tournament. She wasn't ready to use that as a excuse, however.

"The injury happened in training camp, I had an Achilles (issue) and they would work on it and it would feel better," said Dangerfield, who averaged 9 points, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in the seven tournament games. "I rolled my ankle so there were times when I wasn't able to practice so maybe that impacted (her shot)."

While Dangerfield's shot came and went, her leadership never wavered throughout the tournament.

"Crystal has grown up a lot," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She has made about a 180 from last year which is what you hope from freshman to sophomore year. Unfortunately it didn't translate into a gold medal over there, the team they lost to has a couple of pros on their team that are just really, really good players. The U.S. team probably could have won that game  but Crystal played great.

"It was a good role for her, she was really good over there and she has carried it over here, she was good in practice."

Dangerfield was the only returning player from the 2015 U.S. team that beat Russia to win the gold medal and she embraced the role of being a leader. Now she is finding that experience is paying dividends during practices at UConn.

"When I came back here, Shea (Ralph, Dangerfield's position coach at UConn) told me I'm being more vocal," Dangerfield said. "Being able to lead players who are younger than I am, it helps with four freshmen coming in.

"I feel like I am playing harder than I was last year and that comes from just

wanting to be competitive, not wanting last year to repeat."
Naturally, the U19 tournament did not have the ending Dangerfield was hoping for.
Russia's 6-foot-4 forwards Raisa Musina and Maria Vadeeva combined for 59 points, 29 rebounds, nine assists and three blocked shots in Russia's 86-82 victory.

"The end result was really difficult, I knew going in it was going to be difficult because I remember those two from two years ago and they played just like they played there," Dangerfield said. "We went into halftime with a four-point lead, I was like, 'OK, 20 more minutes." It started to slip away in the third quarter. We tried to make a run in the fourth but they were able to hold on and we weren't able to (pull it out)."

UConn freshman Megan Walker was one of the top reserves for the U.S. squad as she averaged 7.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 16.7 minutes per game.

Walker shot just 12.5 percent from 3-point range and 30 percent from the foul line after being a 30 percent 3-point shooter and making 74 percent of her free throws during her high school career.

"Megan struggled a little but as most high school kids do when they are playing against pros," Auriemma said. "I don't even think she played in the second half of the championship game. It was a reminder to her that I don't think anybody cares that you were the national player of the year."

Walker had 15 points in the tournament opener against Mali and 11 against Japan in the semifinals. She also had games with seven rebounds, four assists and two steals showing her tremendous potential.

"The thing the coaching staff said to me was (to focus on) defense, they told me how to operate within their system so I think defensively I've learned a lot," Walker said.

She also learned how to play alongside of Dangerfield.

"Crystal is a great player and I got comfortable with her at the 1 (point guard)," Walker said. "It was really good getting that experience playing with her before the season started. It will help a lot already having that bond and playing with somebody you are familiar with.

"It was a tough loss, we fought to the end. All we can do is go home and work harder."
Walker found herself matched up on taller opponents quite often during the tournament.

"I guarded No. 4 (Musina) one time," Walker said. "I am 6-1 and I was tall on the AAU circuit. Now I am kind of average height so I learned how to guard the guards who are shorter than me, posts and wings that are taller than me so you have to adjust and know their weaknesses and their strengths."

Now Walker and fellow freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Lexi Gordon are getting a crash course on UConn women's basketball and the lofty standards players are held to even during the most basic drill.

"The biggest challenge will be learning that level of intensity and trying to match it every day," Walker said.

The team heads to Italy on Saturday. The first two exhibition games will be played on Monday and Tuesday. The travel party will also visit various spots in Rome. The next two days will be spent sightseeing with the preliminary itinerary including a trip to the Palio di Siena horse race before heading to Florence before playing the final two games on Aug. 18 and 20. A tour of Venice is on the agenda for the final part of the tour before heading home on Aug. 25.

"It is not you go there and every day is either a practice or a game," Auriemma said. "This is more of we have a lecturer coming to see them, explain to them what the significance is of all the things we are going to see, given them an idea of this is what we are going to, this is what is particularly unique, this is what's there.

"I enjoy going over for whatever reason. Doing the same things they do in this country, that is not the point of this. I like when we go over and show them some things that this is the only place in the world where you can see this."

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