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UConn Huskies Preview: Auriemma & Co. eye 12th national title in 2018-19

The renovated UConn Huskies, featuring Katie Lou Samuelson, Crystal Dangerfield and Napheesa Collier, have the right stuff for an undefeated season and the program’s 12th championship title.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Albany Regional-South Carolina vs Connecticut
Geno Auriemma and Co. have a statement season ahead after a last-second push by Notre Dame eliminated the Huskies in the 2018 NCAA semifinals.
Photo by Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

There’s an alarm bell going off in Storrs, Connecticut, where Katie Lou Samuelson’s health is constantly being challenged. Samuelson had ankle surgery during the offseason, treating an injury that benched her for almost a half-dozen games in 2017-18. Of course, she would triumph in her return games last season, not to mention she’s also had the luxury of the last seven-ish months to make a full recovery.

In other player news, UConn will lose two of its leading blockers, Gabby Williams and Azurá Stevens. Kia Nurse, who was second to Katie Lou Samuelson in shots from downtown, was another Husky to leave in order to advance her basketball career with the New York Liberty. With Williams, Stevens and Nurse having moved on, the grass still remains impeccably green in Storrs, though they’ll be sorely missed.

Outside of Samuelson, UConn will have two other experienced weapons: Crystal Dangerfield, who lives up to her surname (dishing out 142 assists in 2017-18) and Napheesa Collier, a Katrina McClain Award watchlist candidate. Additionally, freshmen Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams will both undergo the much-anticipated transition from high school ball to UConn’s legendary tempo and coaching by Geno Auriemma and Naismith Hall of Fame inductee Chris Dailey.

2017-18 Season-in-Review

W-L record: 36-1

Notable results: vs. Oklahoma (W 88-64, Auriemma’s 1,000th career win), vs. Louisville (W 69-58), vs. South Florida (W 70-54, 2018 AAC Championship), vs. Duke (W 72-59, 2018 Sweet Sixteen), vs. South Carolina (W 94-65, 2018 Elite Eight), vs. Notre Dame (L 89-81, 2018 Final Four)

While it’s unnecessary to even mention the firepower of UConn’s offense, it’s still fun to point out the obvious. For instance, out of the 37 games played in the 2017-18 season, UConn scored over 90 points, 17 times. Those 17 games break down even further to 35.2 percent, or 6-of-17, where UConn scored 100-plus points. With Lady Luck not an ally of theirs, the Temple Owls had to go through that grinder twice within a month, losing to the Huskies 113-57 on Jan. 21 and 106-45 on Feb. 18.

Cumulative stats leaders:

Points: 584 — Napheesa Collier

Assists: 180 — Gabby Williams

Rebounds: 270 — Azura Stevens

Steals: 85 — Gabby Williams

Blocks: 73 — Azura Stevens

Game Information

Season opener

UConn Huskies vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

When: Sunday, Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT

How to tune in: CBS Sports Network, 97.9 ESPN Radio

Notable matchups

UConn Huskies at Notre Dame Fighting Irish

When: Sunday, Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, IN

How to tune in: ESPN, 97.9 ESPN Radio

Why it matters: At the moment, Arike Ogunbowale is the most hated person in Storrs. In UConn’s 91-89 loss in the NCAA Tournament, she and teammate Jackie Young combined for 59 points by themselves. It’s too bad — for UConn at least — that both are returning in 2018-19 to play for Muffet McGraw. Other notable Fighting Irish starters to keep an eye on on the Dec. 2 game include Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepard.

Despite an even affair between the two teams, whose rivalry began in 1996, Notre Dame hasn’t won a regular-season game against UConn since 2013. As for this year’s contest, Samuelson and Collier will be the most effective prescriptions to overcome a trip to South Bend.

UConn Huskies at Baylor Bears

When: Thursday, Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Ferrell Center, Waco, TX

How to tune in: ESPN, 97.9 ESPN Radio

Why it matters: Baylor has possibly the most iconic starting five roster where names are concerned, featuring Moon Ursin, Honesty Scott-Grayson, Queen Egbo, Juicy Landrum and Trinity Oliver. Superlatives aside, the 2017-18 edition of Baylor held onto the nation’s second-best in points per game (86.1) and total rebounds (1,706).

This season, Baylor has insurance in Kalani Brown, who’s one inch taller than UConn’s tallest player, Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Like Notre Dame, Baylor’s last win against the Huskies was in 2013, when the Bears were ranked No. 1 in the nation and had a little helper named Brittney Griner.

UConn Huskies at Louisville Cardinals

When: Thursday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, KY

How to tune in: ESPN, 97.9 ESPN Radio

Why it matters: It’s a happy time to be Louisville head coach Jeff Walz, who, in the offseason, signed a six-year extension. Walz is also looking for his 300th career win, a milestone that will likely predate the Jan. 31 matchup between his Cardinals and Auriemma’s Huskies. Though the Cardinals and Huskies enjoyed a couple of encounters at the turn of the decade, they did take a break from each other from 2014-17.

Last year, Asia Durr scored 20 points for Louisville, while Gabby Williams recorded a double-double with 12 points and 15 boards. Along with Durr for the Cardinals, Collier, who troubled Baylor with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 2016, will be a crucial part to a successful UConn run.

Click here to visit the UConn Huskies women’s basketball website.