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UConn Women’s basketball As calendar flips, 5 questions for Huskies

December 31, 2018

As the calendar shifts to 2019, the UConn women’s basketball team will resume its quest for a 12th national title.

The Huskies (11-0) return from their week-plus holiday break Thursday for a Top-10 matchup at Baylor.

Given what we already know about the Huskies, here are some questions to ponder for the season’s second half.

Who has the best chance to beat UConn?

UConn passed its first major test of 2018-19 when it knocked off defending national champion Notre Dame 89-71 on the road. The win vaulted the Huskies into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll, where they have remained ever since.

At this point, given their track record against the AAC (101-0 record), would it really shock anyone if the Huskies headed into March unbeaten? The rest of the regular season pretty much boils down to two games, the first of which comes Thursday (9 p.m.) at No. 8 Baylor. The Lady Bears, who are 9-1 with their only loss coming to Stanford, have the kind of size that could give the Huskies trouble. That includes 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown, who entered Monday averaging 15 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.

If the Huskies can sneak past Baylor, the next, and perhaps last, test of the regular season will be Jan. 31 at Louisville. So far, with the help of All-American Asia Durr, the Cardinals (12-0 and ranked No. 3) have been as good as advertised.

As for the rest of the schedule, South Carolina, which visits the XL Center Feb. 11, will be far more imposing 12 months from now when Dawn Staley’s ballyhooed recruiting class is in uniform.

How high can she go?

Back in November, Geno Auriemma predicted that guard Christyn Williams would be the quicker of his two freshmen to develop because of her position, demeanor and all-around skill level. Without question, he was right.

While forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa has struggled to adapt to the speed and physicality of the college game, Williams has fit right in. Easygoing but supremely confident, Williams plays with a fearlessness that can’t be taught. She showed it in an eye-opening display against Notre Dame, when she scored 16 of her 28 points in the first quarter.

Williams is currently tied for third on the Huskies in scoring (13.8 points per game) and is averaging a team-high 34.5 minutes. Given Williams’ rapid development, could the Huskies’ Big Three (Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield) develop into a Big Four over the next two months?

Will the lack of depth come back to bite the Huskies?

Auriemma played his starters all but two minutes in UConn’s 76-66 win over California. Three nights earlier, in a closer-than-expected 72-63 victory over Oklahoma, three starters played the entire game.

With the Huskies entering Christmas break, they could afford to push their starters to the limit in back-to-back games. But will the heavy lifting start to wear on them later in the season?

Will Collier continue to double-up opponents?

Auriemma set the bar high for Collier — really, really high — when he said after the Huskies’ 80-42 rout of Vanderbilt that the 6-1 senior is capable of getting a double-double every night.

Through 11 games, Collier has seven double-doubles and is averaging 18.6 points and 10.5 rebounds. Only five other Huskies — Rosemary Borsuk, Peggy Walsh, Jody Eckert, Rebecca Lobo and Renee Najarian — have averaged double-digit rebounds for an entire season.

Katie Lou, record-breaker?

Samuelson is shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range, which is slightly below last year’s mark (47.5 percent), which led the country. Nevertheless, Samuelson still has made a team-high 30 treys this season and 323 for her career.

With a strong finish, Samuelson could break the school record for career 3-pointers held by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (398).

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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