Point guard battle highlights UConn-UCLA matchup

UConn head coach Geno Auremma gives advice to point guard Crystal Dangerfield Sunday's 97-72 win over Maryland in Hartford. The No. 1 Huskies begin a west coast road trip on Tuesday night against No. 5 UCLA in Los Angeles. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn head coach Geno Auremma gives advice to point guard Crystal Dangerfield Sunday's 97-72 win over Maryland in Hartford. The No. 1 Huskies begin a west coast road trip on Tuesday night against No. 5 UCLA in Los Angeles. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Los Angeles — Who knows what surprises Hall of Fame UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma might have sprung on sophomore point guard Crystal Dangerfield had the Huskies traveled to the west coast via a team charter, its normal mode of transportation.

However, with the team flying commercially, any motivation Auriemma had planned for Dangerfield had to wait until the team touched down in Los Angeles.

"I have tried to figure out a way that when she turns her little screen on in the plane in front of her, a picture of (UCLA guard) Jordin Canada pops up and it stays there the entire flight," Auriemma said before the team left for its week and a half road trip featuring games in California, Oregon and Nevada. "I am sure Crystal will be up for it, she will be excited about it. They are similar in some ways, so Pauley Pavilion, two great guards going at it, it is going to be pretty exciting."

Canada is second among active women's Division I players with 607 career assists, fourth with 246 steals and 11th with 1,609 points. Even though she was a highly-touted prospect coming out of the Windward School in Los Angeles and drew interest from plenty of elite programs including UConn, Canada had to work on her game to become the elite player she is now. Especially on her outside shooting.

"I worked extremely hard," Canada said. "I knew it was something I needed to focus on especially going into the future with the WNBA. That was something that was my weakness so I worked on it all summer and I am still working on it now."

The 5-foot-6 Canada was just 3 of 23 from 3-point range as a freshman. She made 16 as a sophomore, 29 as a junior and each season her 3-point percentage improved to a career-best mark of 63.6 after the first three games this season.

Dangerfield has also made rapid advancements, goning from being an uncertain and inconsistent freshman to being a key to the early success for No. 1 UConn both on offense and defense. Dangerfield has similar skills to Canada and knows more than a few eyes will be on the matchup of speedy point guards during Tuesday's game at No. 5 UCLA (10:30 p.m., ESPNU).

"She has a high motor and most of the offense runs through her so she is going to be a focus," Dangerfield said. "She is just a great player. She is going to find ways to push you. She goes 110 percent every play so having that matchup early in the season is going to be good."

Canada played 39 minutes in a loss to UConn in the 2017 NCAA tournament and her 11 assists are the most for a player facing the Huskies in the NCAA tournament. Dangerfield had two points and four assists in 17 minutes in the Huskies' 86-71 win. She certainly should have a much more significant role in the rematch.

"She is playing with a lot of confidence," Canada said. "That is something you don't see very often coming from your freshman year to your sophomore year especially from my perspective being in that position before. She is playing with extreme confidence, shooting the ball well, leading her team well."

UConn forward/center Azurá Stevens was on the same team as Canada during the U.S. U-23 trials and obviously knows how talented Dangerfield is as well.

"They are both outstanding guards," Stevens said. "I am a little biased. I think Crystal is better, but Jordin is a real talented guard and really relentless. It was really fun playing with her at trials."

So what does Stevens like the most about playing with Dangerfield?

"The way she plays this year, you have seen her evolve and just her confidence, her eye sight and vision is really fun to play with," Stevens said. "We are pushing the ball and even in the half-court set, she really has a knack for getting other people the ball."

UCLA just defeated Baylor and now UConn comes to town making for an exciting stretch for the UCLA players and their fans.

"You want to play against the best of the best," Canada said. "This is going to help us later on when we get to February in our conference and March with tournament play, so games like this are what are going to help us."

UConn's Gabby Williams (15) and Kia Nurse apply pressure to UCLA point guard  Jordin Canada during the 2017 NCAA Bridgeport Regional. No. 5 UCLA hosts the top-ranked Huskies on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn's Gabby Williams (15) and Kia Nurse apply pressure to UCLA point guard Jordin Canada during the 2017 NCAA Bridgeport Regional. No. 5 UCLA hosts the top-ranked Huskies on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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