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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson poses unique challenge for UConn defense

UConn has certainly shown that it is capable of slowing down or even shutting down the best player on opposing teams.

Stanford's Brittany McPhee is averaging 16 points per game but she finished with nine against the Huskies while going 3 of 12 from the field. UCLA's star point guard Jordin Canada was 5 of 16 shooting the ball. Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young combine for 34 points per game (actually 33.9) on 45-percent shooting but they had 30 points while missing 21 of their 30 field goal attempts. It's been a similar story in American Athletic Conference play as South Florida's Kitija Laksa was 0 for 11 from the field and Tulane's 2,000-point scorer Kolby Morgan was 1 for 10.

Tonight the Huskies will face off against perhaps the best player in the country in A'ja Wilson. All the aforementioned players are guards and/or wing players as seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams played key roles in limiting their impact. It will be interesting to see how the Huskies handle the 6-foot-5 Wilson.

A year ago Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier went toe to toe with Wilson and 6-foot-4 Alaina Coates. Wilson and Coates combined for 27 points, 20 rebounds and five assists which sounds pretty good until you realize that Williams and Collier finished with 44 points, 23 rebounds, four assists and five steals.

I'm curious to see the defensive strategy used by the Huskies. Missouri opted to crowd the paint and when Wilson got the ball in the low post, to just surround her with four players daring her to get the ball to one of her teammates. I don't think the Huskies will go down that road even though the Gamecocks' best 3-point shooter (Lindsey Spann) is out tonight according to South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. The other players who have attempted at least one 3-pointer per game are shooting between 24.4-36.2 percent. My hunch is that the Huskies will do what they can to limit the 3-point looks while still throwing a second player at Wilson. It also bears watching if the Huskies use a zone especially when Azura' Stevens and/or Megan Walker are in the game which was standard operating procedure earlier in the season. The 6-foot-6 Stevens has the ability to match up with Wilson even if Geno Auriemma is constantly criticizing her defensive effectiveness.

Staley said in yesterday's press conference that there won't be a repeat of a season ago when she instructed her time to run time off the shot clock to limit the number of UConn possessions.  

"We did a little something different last year, we took the air out of the ball and tried to limit the amount of possessions UConn got," Staley said. "This year, we are just going to play our style of play. If we can pressure the ball, disrupt a little bit, take our time and execute offensiveyly and see where that leaves us. Our crowd, we are expecting a big crowd and hopefully we can get energized by what they are bringing into the building."

A number that jumps out from last year's meeting is that the Huskies were 4 of 17 from 3-point range. I'd be surprised if that happens again considering that Nurse leads all women's Division I players in 3-point field goal percentage (50.5) and Katie Lou Samuelson is fifth at 46.3 percent. Crystal Dangerfield is sitting at 47.6 percent which would rank third but she has made 39 3-pointers in 20 game and players need to make at least two per game to be listed among the national leaders.

READY TO JOIN THE CLUBA total of 20 UConn products have been taken in the first round since 2001 and in five seasons (including an incredible three in a row) more than one former Husky has gone in the opening round. It is certainly looking like those trends with continue.

Doug Feinberg, the Associated Press' national women's basketball writer, has been polling WNBA general managers and/or coaches to put together mock drafts. Version No. 2 came out today with Williams slotted in at No. 4 to Chicago and Kia Nurse going 10th overall to New York.

Wilson is once again the predicted No. 1 overall pick where she would be on the receiving ends of passes from former UConn star Moriah Jefferson followed by Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell and former North Carolina and Tennessee star Diamond DeShields. The Connecticut Sun picks ninth and after Nurse was the projected pick in the first mock draft, now it is Ariel Atkins of Texas in that slot.


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