Rest will have to wait for Dangerfield, No. 1 UConn
Hartford — Crystal Dangerfield’s name can be found all over the statistical leaders in the American Athletic Conference.
The UConn women’s basketball team’s senior point guard is in the AAC’s top 10 in seven categories including scoring, field-goal percentage, 3-point shooting percentage, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, and steals.
But heading into Sunday’s league game against SMU at Moody Coliseum in Dallas, (4 p.m., SNY) Dangerfield leads the AAC in minutes played at 37.4 per game and that’s something the top-ranked Huskies have to monitor.
“I don’t think the game situation is going to change all that much,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Thursday. “Maybe a little bit depending upon whether we can change our style of play a little bit. It could happen.
“Practice is where she gets to take some of the time off she needs. She’s not involved in every single little thing that we do in practice. She doesn’t get winded. She doesn’t get tired. We’re a different team, obviously, when she’s on the floor and when she’s not.”
The UConn record for minutes played per game is 36.0 set by Wendy Davis during her senior season of 1992.
Dangerfield came out for the first and only time Thursday with 1:15 remaining of the Huskies’ 83-55 win over Wichita State at the XL Center. In her nine games — she missed the Dayton and Seton Hall games with back spasms — she’s played 40 minutes three times. Her shortest outing was 31 minutes against Virginia on Nov. 19.
While Dangerfield would play every minute of every game if it was her choice, she understands that’s not feasible if she wants to be at her best for a run deep into the NCAA Tournament in March and April. And the Huskies (11-0 overall, 2-0 AAC) need her at her best if they hope to reach a record 13th consecutive Final Four.
“Now that I am older, I kind of understand that, yeah, I can take time out of practice because I understand what’s going on,” Dangerfield said. “Then when I’m in practice I make sure I’m going as hard as I can so I can be in shape to play 40 minutes if I have to and guard the opponent’s best guard if I have to. It comes with maturity.”
Dangerfield finished third in the AAC in minutes played a year ago and was joined in the top 10 in that category by All-Americans Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier.
Since the start of their Final Four streak in 2008 through 2018, the Huskies had only two players finish in the league’s top 10 in minutes: Kelly Faris in the Big East in 2013, and Stefanie Dolson in the AAC in 2014.
Of course, another reason UConn has to keep a close eye on Dangerfield is her injury history. She’s had two hip surgeries since she stepped on the Storrs, including last summer, missed five games her freshman year with a foot issue, and played through painful shin splints much of her sophomore year.
She learned from Samuelson that it was OK to take a break in practice.
“Lou knew it better than anybody,” Dangerfield said. “But I think that’s something you kind of have to earn. It’s about how hard you go. Your teammates respect how hard you go when you’re out there and understand that when you can’t go you can step off.”
Dangerfield finished with a game high 22 points Thursday along with seven rebounds, and five assists. It was her third 20-point game in her last five as the Huskies look to her to score more.
Her No. 1 supporter is Auriemma.
“You always love to have point guards or guards in general who love to score and look to score every time they touch the ball,” Auriemma said. “If you notice, Crystal’s best games are when she is trying to score, to be aggressive and look to shoot more. That’s when plays for other people develop. She’s not as good when she is passing up shots, going in the lane and looking for people all the time. That doesn’t work for her.
“When you get the ball, you have to try to score. If it isn’t there then there will be a pass. Somebody who can shoot threes from as deep as she can and who is able to get in the lane and make plays is hard to guard.”