The four time defending champion Connecticut Huskies will travel to Tallahassee for their first game of the regular season. The Huskies beat Pace University 95-32 on Nov. 6 in an exhibition game at the XL Center in Storrs, CT. Florida State began their season with a 73-62 home victory over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
UConn has won four straight championships and is clearly the pre-eminent program in women's college basketball (and not just because they share a state with ESPN). This is simply one of the most successful programs in American sports. The Huskies have made the Final Four every year for the past nine years and have won titles in six of those years. They are coached by a legend in Geno Auriemma. Auriemma is in his 32nd year in Storrs and his resume is sterling. He has led UConn to 11 national titles, 17 Final Fours, six perfect seasons (1995, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2016) and 43 Conference titles (regular season and tournament) since arriving on campus. Auriemma has also served as the head coach of the United States national team for the past eight years.
Presently UConn boasts a 73 game winning streak. A large portion of the credit for that streak belongs to the 2015-2016 edition of the Huskies. That team is on the shortlist of the very best teams in college basketball history. Last year's UConn team was 38-0 enroute to their fourth championship in a row. Every game they played was won by double digits. Maryland and Notre Dame kept it closest with both teams losing by 10 points. FSU lost to the Huskies last year in Connecticut 73-49.
Fortunately for FSU that team is not showing up on Monday in the TLCCC. UConn lost their top three players from last year's team in Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck. Those three players went 1-2-3 in the WNBA Draft. They were the three top scorers on the team and Stewart and Tuck were the top rebounders while Jefferson led the team in assists. In all UConn loses 51.9% of their scoring, 41.5% of their rebounding and 56.6% of their assists with the graduation of those three players. So the Seminoles will not be facing the same juggernaut that they had to deal with last year. However this is still UConn and the cupboard is certainly not bare of talent.
UConn Players to Watch
Connecticut's best returning player figures to be 6'0 junior guard Kia Nurse. Nurse (9.3pg, 1.9rg, 2.74ag) is a versatile talent who represented Canada in the Rio Olympics. Nurse is talented guard who has range to the three point line (37% 3FG). She will likely have to take on more rebounding duties this year with the loss of Stewart and Tuck. Nurse will be joined in the backcourt by junior Gabby Williams (8.8rg, 5.6rg) and senior Saniya Chong (3.7pg, 1.3rg). Williams is an ultra athletic former McDonald's All-American who does her damage in transition and by attacking the rim. If she can refine her mid range game even further she will be even more of a load for teams to handle. Chong is a player who has struggled to find consistent minutes due mostly to the stacked roster of the last few years but she is a talented player in her own right. She will act primarily as a facilitator in this offense but she can hit the open three if left alone (36.8% 3FG). She is also 86% from the free throw line. Crystal Dangerfield is UConn's latest top recruit (#3 in 2016). The 5'6 freshman is known for her stunning quickness in the halfcourt and super athleticism in transition. Dangerfield also has a reputation for making good decisions from the point guard position.
In the frontcourt UConn is led by 6'3 sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson (11pg, 3.4rg) and 6'1 sophomore Napheesa Collier (6.8pg 5.2rg). Samuelson (#1 overall in 2015) has elite size for a wing player. She can attack the basket off the dribble or pull up for the midrange jumper. She also had the most three point attempts for UConn last year (198) hitting 39.4% of them. She will be a very tough cover for FSU. Collier (#6 overall in 2015) does most of her work inside the arc but her exceptional athleticism really shines in an uptempo game. She will be an important player for Connecticut this year as she will likely be asked to pick up the rebounding slack left by the three graduating seniors. Collier was also the best free throw shooter on the team last year (91.7%).
Keys to the Game
1. Florida State needs to win the rebounding battle. It's hard to see the Noles winning this game if UConn is allowed to have multiple second shot opportunities.
2. FSU also needs to have a good night behind the arc. If the Noles hit a few threes that will create space inside for Chatrice White, Kai James and Ivey Slaughter.
3. Florida State must avoid long scoring droughts on offense that will allow the Huskies to go on long scoring runs.
4. The Noles need a good start. This is UConn's first real game in four years without Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson. A good start may put doubt in their minds, give FSU confidence and get the crowd involved.
This is one of the most important regular season home games the FSU has played in recent memory. If they win they will break the 73 game streak and get unprecedented publicity for the program. This will be a prime time game on national television.
As we have discussed before, this is a fantastic game for the coaches to schedule. UConn is not the team they were last year so the game is winnable but they are still really good so they will have a great record this year thereby boosting FSU's RPI. Also, FSU is a better team at home. The Seminoles have only lost one home game in the last two years (73-66 to Notre Dame last year).Win or lose these are the games that a talented team like FSU needs to play. These are also the games that an up and coming program like FSU needs to win. Florida State as a program is really good right now but to break through to the elite it needs to beat elite teams. There is no more elite team in the nation than the Huskies. This is a great opportunity for FSU. It also helps that this is UConn's first game of the season. They may not have all of the kinks worked out yet.
The word is that Leticia Romero is doubtful for this game. If she doesn't play that obviously hurts FSU's chances. However, this team certainly has the talent to get a program defining win on Monday night.
The game tips on Monday at 6pm in the TLCCC and on ESPN 2.