UConn women need to find the fight
STORRS – It was hard to watch. Not the kind of hard to watch born out of boredom of past years when UConn was blowing teams out by a hundred in the second quarter and drama was confined to finding a parking spot before the game. But the kind of hard to watch that comes from unfamiliar futility so often experienced by the Huskies opponents over the years.
UConn became their opponents Monday night in front of a muted sellout crowd. In absorbing their worse loss ever at Gampel Pavilion, the Huskies were laid to waste by No. 3 Oregon, 74-56. The Huskies had lost a couple of 17-point decisions to Iowa and Syracuse in the early 1990s but that was before the era of UConn dominance.
This was thorough and complete dominance by the Ducks that laid bare the UConn flaws in painful fashion. All raising the question of what will the Huskies be able to produce as March and post-season rapidly approaches.
The tangible deficiencies were disturbing. Megan Walker managed just eight points on 3-of-16 shooting. Crystal Dangerfield when asked what it means for the Huskies when Walker has that kind of night didn’t have to search for the answer.
“Twenty points. What did we lose by? Eighteen.”
Dangerfield wasn’t laying blame on Walker. She just knows how much the team’s leading scorer means to the team’s success.
Sophomore Christyn Williams continues to find the basket unfriendly and was 2-for-9 with five points. Center Olivia Nelson-Ododa continues to struggle to make herself a notable presence in the middle or at the offensive end.
The Huskies struggled mightily on defense with Oregon outscoring them in the paint, 44-14 and often finding the path to the hoop like and empty highway with pinpoint passing and pick-and-roll perfection that UConn couldn’t handle.
There were two bright spots on a dark night – Crystal Dangerfield who scored 19 points and the continuing emergence of Anna Makurat who tossed in 13 points. But in a season where the Huskies are battling youth and a lack of size all hands need to be on board and it was hardly enough. Not even close.
UConn fell behind early, 10-2 and never got closer than six points the rest of the game. Oregon led by double digits the entire second half at one point building up a 59-39 lead. The crowd actually got excited when the Huskies cut the lead to 12. Imagine that at UConn.
For all the less than appealing numbers and subpar execution, however, the Huskies weren’t just outplayed, they were out-toughed. Oregon slapped the Huskies at home and there was no slap back.
“In a lot of cases (toughness) is something you have or your don’t have but the way we go through practice coach does a pretty good job of bringing it out in us and tonight we didn’t show it,” said Dangerfield.”
“If you want to fight for national championships you just can’t look at somebody and say they are more experienced and older. You have to fight them, and I don’t think we fought them tonight,” said Makurat.
There is much in play here. You can’t deny youth and inexperience as factors. This is unknown territory for these players and this program. Teams have risen to meet the UConn challenge and nothing less than the A game is good enough and this year even that maybe not enough.
Oregon may very well be lofting the National Championship trophy in the air in April. Coach Kelly Graves has had his team on a steady rise up. A Final Four team a year ago, The Ducks’ ascendency to the top is no surprise They are big, mature, have an arsenal of weapons and have the nation’s best player in guard Sabrina Ionescu, who dissects defenses and is on target to become the first NCAA men’s or women’s player to reach 2,000-plus points, 1,000-plus assists and 1,000-plus rebounds. Her 10-point, nine-rebound, nine-assist effort against UConn was a model of being in command in all areas.
Oregon beating UConn is no surprise, the manner of dominance is a different manner. UConn was right with Baylor before faltering in the fourth quarter. Against Team USA, the Huskies actually led by a basket early in the fourth quarter. This fight was over early in the second half here.
That UConn was bothered was obvious.
“I’m angry and embarrassed because of a 20-point loss on our home floor and disappointed,” said Dangerfield.
The Huskies need an A-game that they haven’t found all season against a quality opponent. Then they need to find out what the A-game gets them. But they need to get tough enough to find an answer to the question.
After hosting Memphis Friday, it's down to play No. 1 South Carolina, a team that hasn’t beaten them, Monday night. For UConn this one is more than just the final score. It is as much about how they get to the final score. Can the find the A-game and what will the A-game get them. They need to find the fight.