UCONN WOMEN AT CALIFORNIA, SATURDAY, 3 P.M. (PAC-12 NETWORK) After surviving in Oklahoma, UConn expects another test at California
NORMAN, Okla. — It’s a product of being a perennial powerhouse. UConn is bound to get every opponent’s best effort, regardless of record.
Look no further than Wednesday, when Oklahoma, 3-6 but brimming with confidence, took the nation’s No. 1 team down to the wire. The Huskies survived 72-63, but not without a scare.
“As strange as it sounds, we might be a little bit better basketball team right now than we were two hours ago,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We played a bunch of really tough kids, a bunch of tough competitive kids.”
Based on what we know about Auriemma, that sentiment doesn’t sound strange at all. In fact, it jives with what he’s preached since July, well before the chase for a 12th national title began. Auriemma invites tests early in the season, knowing they’re bound to pay off sometime in March.
“That’s part of why you do what you do, that’s why we schedule the way we schedule,” Auriemma said. “I don’t want to wait until the end of February to find out we don’t know this, we don’t know that. I want to find out in November and December so then we could spend a couple months fixing it.”
Auriemma suspects the Huskies, now 10-0 and winners of their last 125 regular-season games, will face another test when they visit 9-0 California Saturday (3 p.m.) in their final game before Christmas break. The No. 14 Golden Bears are the third Top-25 opponent the Huskies have played this season.
Senior Kristine Anigwe has been instrumental in the Golden Bears’ success. The 6-foot-4 forward is top-five in the country in both points (23.6) and rebounds (13.7) — numbers that have certainly grabbed the attention of UConn’s Napheesa Collier.
“She’s really strong and athletic. She’s a good player. Things we didn’t do tonight, like boxing out, that’s definitely something we’ll have to do next game,” Collier said.
Auriemma said the Huskies are like every other team in the country, in that they need to keep improving. He wants the Huskies to become more balanced offensively, especially after watching them slog their way through their worst shooting performance of the season: 28-of-70 (40 percent) from the floor, including 2-of-17 from 3-point range.
“Those games happen,” said senior Katie Lou Samuelson, who was just 1-of-6 from 3-point range but still finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. “We’re a really good 3-point shooting team. I wouldn’t be surprised if next game we have our best shooting game ever. That’s just kind of how it is.”
Yes, shooters can be streaky. It’s why Auriemma wants his team to be able to find other ways to score.
“We need somebody to help Pheesa in the lane. We need some more scoring in the lane,” Auriemma said. “You can’t just live on your 3-pointers. We need to find out how we’re going to do that.”
That process will continue in the Bay Area. The Huskies are 4-1 all-time against California, including an 82-47 rout in Storrs last season. The Golden Bears won the only other game played in Berkeley, 76-60 in 1991.