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    UConn Women's Basketball
    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    UConn women are trending upward

    From the left, UConn's Anna Makurat, Megan Walker, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Crystal Dangerfield (partially hidden) and Aubrey Griffin huddle on the court during Monday's victory over South Florida in the regular-season finale at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Hartford — The play took six seconds from start to finish but goes a long way in showing how the UConn women’s basketball team has progressed as it heads towards postseason play.

    With 2:41 to go in the first quarter of the Huskies’ game with South Florida Monday night, Megan Walker grabbed a rebound of a miss by the Bulls’ Elena Tsineke and tossed an outlet to Crystal Dangerfield, who led Anna Makurat up the right side. Makurat made a bounce pass back to Dangerfield at the top of the key. The point guard flipped it to Olivia Nelson-Ododa in the lane, who found a more open Aubrey Griffin for a layup with 2:35 left in the period.

    The XL Center crowd erupted as USF coach Jose Fernandez called a time out and the five Huskies who touched the ball celebrated on their way to their bench.

    “When you make a play like that it frustrates the other team because you’re just picking them apart,” Dangerfield said. “Any one of us could have scored the ball.

    “Obviously there are things that we have to get better at but right now we’re playing really good basketball. It’s started with our defense. When our defense is playing well we can turn it into offense. That’s what we want to focus on.”

    Fifth-ranked UConn’s 80-39 rout of USF was its sixth consecutive victory and capped off a seventh straight perfect American Athletic Conference regular season.

    Next up for the Huskies is an AAC tournament quarterfinal game Saturday against Temple or East Carolina at Mohegan Sun Arena.

    “We’re peaking at the right time and Coach (Geno Auriemma) is proud of us,” UConn forward Megan Walker said. “We’ve been through ups and downs this season. For us to put together a good stretch … We’re putting up points, we’re stopping people, we’re running in transition, it looks fun and it looks like when I was a freshman. We’re getting back to that. We want to put together another stretch this weekend with the tournament and take it game by game.”

    UConn will take a 26-3 record into the postseason with the losses to the top three teams in the Associated Press poll — South Carolina, Baylor, and Oregon — and the top projected seeds by the selection committee for the NCAA tournament.

    But with every loss a crisis seemed to follow. Against Baylor on Jan. 9, it was a collapse over the final six minutes that turned a two-point game into a 16-point loss. Against Oregon on Feb. 3, the Ducks played like a mirror image of the Huskies’ great teams of the past in an 18-point victory. A week later in South Carolina, UConn put up all of two points in the first quarter and never caught up in an 18-point loss to the Gamecocks.

    “There are some seasons that are easy,” Auriemma said. “I’ve gotten Coach of the Year a bunch of times when I didn’t work up a sweat. I just went to practice and said, ‘Here is what we’re going to do today,’ and they did it. Then we would play the game and I’d say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do today,’ and they did it. Then it was, ‘Where are we going to eat?’ That was the toughest decision I had to make a couple years. And I would get Coach of the Year, and I’d laugh my butt off.

    “Then there are other years where you are absolutely killing yourself every single day, and every day is torture. That is the life of a coach. This year has been hard, really hard, for a lot of different reasons.”

    But in the last week that has included blowouts of Cincinnati and Houston on the road and USF here, the Huskies have made it look quite easy in every aspect.

    They’ve accomplished what Auriemma puts on the board before the game: Play hard, play smart, have fun.

    “We’re a pretty good team so the record is what it is,” Auriemma said. “I don’t go by your record will let you know how good you are. You can be a pretty good team that is just struggling to win games. We’re a pretty good team right now, and we’ve had a pretty good year.

    “By most barometers we’ve had a great year so far. Ninety-nine percent of the country would change places with me. None of them live in Connecticut but 99 percent of the rest of the country would trade places with me.”

    Of course, whether UConn has had a great season will be determined by what happens in the next five weeks. The Huskies have as few as two or as many as nine games remaining.

    They will return to practice Thursday to get ready for the postseason. That starts with their bid to finish their stay in the AAC unbeaten by winning a seventh consecutive league tourney title.

    “There’s always things that you need to do,” Auriemma said. “It’s not always that you need to improve on this or improve on that. Sometimes you just want to shore up some things. It may be, ‘I really liked our offense today but maybe we should add this little thing right here at the end.’ Or maybe, ‘I really liked our defense the way we were playing, but maybe we should try to incorporate some of this.’

    “When tournament time comes around, you’re not looking to change anything or overhaul anything to become drastically different. What you’re trying to do is find little tweaks you can use to enhance whatever you’re doing. That’s what we’re going to do.”

    UConn has won 31 straight league tournament quarterfinals and in that stretch is 29-2 in the semifinals. The Huskies are seeking their 25th tourney title.

    “Every team is different,” Walker said. “Just because we lost three games doesn’t mean anything. We’re still here.”

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