Maryland women’s basketball hits the road for the first time this season Sunday for a challenging contest against No. 1 Connecticut.
The Terps took care of business against Niagara Thursday, overcoming a less than stellar first half to pull away for a 92-65 win. Stephanie Jones and Ieshia Small both set career highs against the Eagles, finishing with 21 and 18 points, respectively.
The Huskies are heavy favorites to win the national championship this year, and have steamrolled two Pac-12 opponents to start the season. They crushed then-No. 10 Stanford, 78-53, last Sunday, then demolished No. 20 California, 82-47, on Friday night.
Connecticut looked to be on its way to a fifth straight national championship and an NCAA-record 113-game win streak before Morgan William happened. The Huskies beat Maryland 87-81 last season in front of a sellout Xfinity Center crowd. It was one of only three wins during UConn’s winning streak that was by less than 10 points.
The Terps are 0-5 all time against Connecticut, and lost their only road game against the Huskies in 2012. That game was played at the XL Center in Hartford, which is also the site of Sunday’s matchup.
Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and you can catch the game on ESPN2.
Connecticut Huskies (2-0)
2016-17 record: 36-1, 16-0 AAC
Head coach Geno Auriemma is 993-135 in 33 years at Connecticut. His .888 winning percentage is the best in women’s basketball history, and his 11 national championships are the most in men’s or women’s Division I basketball. He’s led UConn to six perfect seasons, and has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen every year since 1994.
Players to know
Napheesa Collier, junior, forward, 6’1, No. 24. One of the best post players in women’s basketball, Collier averaged a team-leading 20.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game on 67.8 percent shooting last season. She was named AAC Co-Player of the Year and was a first team All-American as well. Collier hasn’t been as efficient to start this season, averaging 11 points and 6.5 rebounds a game on 47 percent shooting.
Katie Lou Samuelson, junior, guard/forward, 6’3, No. 33. Samuelson shared AAC Conference Player of the Year honors with Collier last year and was also a first team All-American. She averaged 20.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and is a lights-out shooter, hitting 42 percent of her three-pointers on an AAC-best 3.2 threes per game last year. Despite vomiting during timeouts against Maryland last year, she still scored 23 points and hit big shots throughout the second half. She’s averaging 16.5 points so far this season.
Gabby Williams, senior, forward, 5’11, No. 15. Williams is a do-it-all forward for the Huskies, and might be the best defender in the country. She averaged 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.7 steals last season, and was also the WBCA National Player of the Year. She was a difference maker against the Terps last year, finishing with 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and two steals. She continues to make an impact on both sides of the ball to start 2017, averaging 12 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Kia Nurse, senior, guard, 6’0, No. 11. A sniper from deep, Nurse hit threes at a team-leading 46.2 percent clip last year to go along with 12.6 points per game. She’s a four-year starter, and keeps opponents honest if they focus too much attention on UConn’s other stars. That’s what happened against Maryland last year, when she had 19 points, five assists and went 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Crystal Dangerfield, sophomore, guard, 5’5, No. 5. Dangerfield’s emergence as a scoring threat makes the Huskies even more dangerous. After averaging 6.1 points per game as a freshman, she’s up to 19 points per game through two games this year. She was the top point guard in ESPNw’s Class of 2016.
Azura Stevens, junior, forward, 6’6 No. 23. Stevens made waves when she transferred from Duke to Connecticut after the 2015-16 season. Described by South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley as “like Kevin Durant,” Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore before heading to Storrs. She’s put up 9.5 points and five rebounds per game off the bench in her first two games as a Husky.
Forcing turnovers. UConn has harassed opponents defensively in its first two games, forcing a whopping 51 turnovers. Maryland has averaged just 12.5 turnovers per game since committing 21 against Albany, but the Huskies length could cause big problems for an inexperienced team.
Rebounding. The Huskies have been outrebounded in their first two games to start the season. Of course, one can argue that rebounding doesn’t matter as much when a team forces over 25 turnovers a game like UConn does. Maryland is traditionally a strong team on the glass, but has been inconsistent this season.
Three things to watch
- Can Maryland avoid a slow start? The Terps were able to overcome slow starts against Albany and Niagara, and came close to pulling off an epic comeback against South Carolina. They won’t have that same luxury against the Huskies, who require opponents to be at the top of their game physically and mentally if they even want a chance of winning.
- Will Kaila Charles stay out of foul trouble? When the sophomore guard is on the court, she’s been Maryland’s best player, averaging 20.3 points and seven rebounds in just 22.7 minutes per game. The Terps struggled without her against South Carolina, and that will only get worse if she can’t stay on the floor on Sunday.
- How do Sarah Myers and Channise Lewis split time at point guard? Myers has had the edge in minutes so far this season, averaging 24.3 compared to Lewis’s 18.7 over the first three games. Lewis has started the past two games, but has been replaced by Myers early both times. Lewis struggled against South Carolina, so Frese was forced to go with the more poised Myers for much of the second and third quarter. This is the first time Myers and Lewis will be running the offense in a hostile environment, so it’s hard to know how they’ll react.
UConn wins, 87-61.