Game­cocks next test in store for Huskies

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - By Doug Bon­jour

STORRS — Geno Auriemma doesn’t sched­ule mar­quee op­po­nents solely for the pur­pose of boost­ing his team’s ré­sumé come March.

“You play th­ese games,” the UConn coach said Satur­day fol­low­ing a 109-74 rout of Tem­ple at Gam­pel Pav­il­ion, “be­cause yeah, the more times you play well in th­ese games, the more you feel when you get into March that you’ve kind of ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of dif­fer­ent things.”

Face a qual­ity, up­set­minded op­po­nent on the road? Check. Play a guard­heavy, run-and-gun perime­ter team? Check. Take on a tall, phys­i­cal team that presents matchup nightmares? Check.

With a lit­tle more than a month to go be­fore the NCAA tour­na­ment, where their quest for a 12th na­tional ti­tle will ramp up in in­ten­sity, the Huskies have learned their share of valu­able lessons.

“I was telling my play­ers re­cently, maybe it was yes­ter­day,” Auriemma said, “when you see the bracket in the NCAA Tour­na­ment and you see 16 teams, and there’s you and 15 other teams, you might see 10 dif­fer­ent styles of bas­ket­ball on all those teams.

“The more teams that you can play dur­ing the sea­son that ex­poses you to that, I think the bet­ter you’re go­ing to be come March.”

UConn’s next test comes Mon­day, when No. 12 South Carolina vis­its the XL Cen­ter in Hart­ford (7 p.m.). It’s the Huskies’ third game against a ranked op­po­nent since the cal­en­dar flipped to 2019.

The last two didn’t go so well. Losses to Bay­lor and Louisville, the cur­rent No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the As­so­ci­ated Press poll, re­main the

only two blem­ishes to date on an oth­er­wise strong sea­son for Auriemma & Co.

Guard Crys­tal Danger­field said that play­ing well against a Top-15 team will be “huge” for the Huskies’ col­lec­tive psy­che mov­ing for­ward.

“It’s more so for what we’re go­ing to face in the tour­na­ment be­cause that’s what we’re build­ing for and what we’ve been build­ing for since Oc­to­ber,” she said. “That’s what’s we want to do. We want to be men­tally and phys­i­cally pre­pared for things like that.”

Danger­field, a steady­ing pres­ence in the back­court, said “time will tell” if the Huskies are ready for what’s to come against South Carolina.

Though the Game­cocks no longer have A’ja Wil­son, who as a se­nior was the con­sen­sus Na­tional Player of the Year, they do have a deep, ver­sa­tile lineup and a coach with a na­tional cham­pi­onship on her ré­sumé.

South Carolina started 4-4 un­der Dawn Sta­ley — with losses to a trio of Top-10 teams in Mary­land, Ore­gon State and Bay­lor — but has since won 13 of 14 to im­prove to 17-5 (9-1 in the SEC). Four play­ers are av­er­ag­ing 9.6 points or more, led by ju­nior guard Te’a Cooper (12.7). The Game­cocks have speed in the back­court and size up front, with 6-foot-2 Alexis Jennings record­ing 10.5 points and 6 re­bounds per game.

“It’s kind of our last big test be­fore post­sea­son play,” for­ward Napheesa Col­lier said. “We kind of have to put ev­ery­thing that we’ve learned from all our other games, our two losses and ev­ery­thing, and try to bring it to­gether and ex­e­cute it on Mon­day.

“We can’t keep mak­ing the same mis­takes that we’ve been mak­ing.”

The Game­cocks tra­di­tion­ally have been no match for UConn. They’ve lost all seven meet­ings (by av­er­age of 27 points), in­clud­ing 94-65 in last year’s Elite Eight in Al­bany, N.Y. The Huskies, who are 21-2 (10-0 AAC) and ranked No. 5 in the coun­try, know the past doesn’t mean a whole lot, though.

They’ve had only one day to pre­pare for this lat­est matchup, which Auriemma hopes will pre­pare his play­ers for the grind they’ll ex­pe­ri­ence in March.

“That’s some­thing that we’re try­ing to do ev­ery year,” Auriemma said. “We’re try­ing to get as many games as we can where you’ve got one game Satur­day and you know that the next game is Mon­day, or Sun­day-Tues­day. The sec­ond game is al­ways much more dif­fi­cult than the first one.

“That’s what we try to do.”

Stephen Dunn / As­so­ci­ated Press

Katie Lou Sa­muel­son and fifth-ranked UConn will face off against No. 15 South Carolina on Mon­day.

As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Coach Dawn Sta­ley and 15th-ranked South Carolina take on No. 5 UConn on Mon­day in Hart­ford.

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