UConn women continue to receive passing grades

UConn's Crystal Dangerfield heaves a pass downcourt against duriing Tuesday's game against Central Florida at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. The No. 1 Huskies, who visit Houston on Saturday, are on pace to set a program single-season record for assists. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn's Crystal Dangerfield heaves a pass downcourt against duriing Tuesday's game against Central Florida at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. The No. 1 Huskies, who visit Houston on Saturday, are on pace to set a program single-season record for assists. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Houston — Very rarely is there a statistical trend associated with his program that catches UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma by surprise.

However, when he was informed that his current team is dishing out assists at the fastest pace in program history, he was somewhat incredulous.

"I would have never thought that," Auriemma said. "The one thing we are doing a little bit differently is I think we are creating more possessions, so maybe that's got something to do with it. The other is we have more people handling the ball. That is the only explanation I had because I don't think we are shooting a ridiculously high percentage."

UConn (14-0, 4-0 in the American Athletic Conference) currently has 328 assists heading into Saturday's game at Houston (3 p.m., SNY). A season ago when the Huskies handed out a program record 863 assists, they had 327 through the first 15 games.

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that UConn could very well have six players finish the season with more than 100 assists, which would be a program first. Not only are starters Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams as well as top reserve Azurá Stevens on pace to reach triple digits, but five of them have more than twice as many assists as turnovers.

UConn's three primary post players (Collier, Stevens and Williams) combine for more than 10 assists per game. Even the best teams often times tend to have frontcourt players who struggle to rack up the assists. With the ability to have top passers at every spot on the floor, it makes the Huskies' offense run like a well-oiled machine more often than not.

"My teammates help with half of that because they can catch passes and make scores off of them so with every pass that I make that they catch," Stevens said.

"We know if we are passing to somebody, they are going to be attacking and trying to score. They are not going to be unsure and not completing layups, so it just makes the game more fast faced and exciting for us. "

Another factor is the versatility of the Huskies top players. UConn features seven players averaging more than 10 minutes per game and only the 5-foot-5 Dangerfield is limited in the areas of the floor she can score from. The other six players have the size and skills to score from the perimeter or in the paint.

"That makes it really hard to guard us. You can't just put a post player on a lot of us because we can go on the perimeter, if they put a guard on us we can post up so that definitely helps us to score in different ways,' Collier said.

"The one thing we really focus on at practice is completing the easy pass, so it is something our team is focused on."

Dangerfield, Nurse, Samuelson and Williams all had more than 100 assists a season ago. Saniya Chong also topped 100 assists marking the third time in program history that UConn had five players finish a season with 100 or more helpers.

Maya Moore, Kelly Faris, Tiffany Hayes, Bria Hartley and Lorin Dixon all surpassed the 100-assist mark during the 2010-11 season. Four seasons later Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, Kia Nurse and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis all reached triple digits in assists.

• UConn announced that freshman guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter has left the program and plans to transfer to another school. "I have enjoyed getting to know Andy and her family," Auriemma said in a release. "Everyone at UConn wishes Andy all the best as she continues her college career elsewhere."

Espinoza-Hunter left the team in December for what Auriemma called "personal" reasons and missed the last seven games. The Ossining, N.Y. native averaged 2.0 points in 7.0 minutes in limited action for the Huskies.

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