Women's Basketball

Syracuse women’s basketball opponent preview: What to know about Connecticut

Evan Jenkins | Staff Photographer

Briana Day will have her work cut out for her against a very good rebounding UConn team.

No. 8 seed Syracuse (22-10, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) is set to take on No. 1 seed Connecticut (33-0, 16-0 American Athletic) at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in Storrs, Connecticut. SU is coming off an 85-65 first-round win over No. 9 seed Iowa State, a game in which three Orange scorers tallied over 20 points, including a career-high 24 from freshman 3-point specialist Gabby Cooper. UConn enters the contest fresh off a commanding 116-55 win over No. 16 seed Albany in its first round matchup, the 17th time this season that the Huskies have scored at least 90 points.

Here’s what to know about UConn ahead of Monday’s matchup.

All-time series: Connecticut leads, 38-12

Last time they played: The Huskies smashed SU, 82-51, in the 2016 NCAA national championship game in Indianapolis. Breanna Stewart led the charge for UConn, posting 24 points in the program’s record fourth-straight national title win. Cornelia Fondren had 16 points for the Orange on 60 percent shooting, but SU shot just 10.5 percent from 3 in the defeat.

The UConn report: The Huskies are the undisputed best women’s team in the nation, and have beaten 10 ranked team this season. Their closest game of the year was against then-No. 4 Maryland, winning by only six over the Terrapins. UConn has scored over 100 points an NCAA-leading five times this season, and has four players averaging double-digit points, with two averaging over 20.

Katie Lou Samuelson is the Huskies’ star, averaging 20.8 points per game over an average of 31.3 minutes per game. She’s made 112 3-pointers on 259 attempts, good for 43.2 percent. The Huskies have the No. 3 scoring offense in the country, averaging 87.5 points per game, and the No. 6 scoring defense in the country, allowing an average of just 53.8 points per game.

FiveThirtyEight.com currently gives the Huskies a 49 percent chance to win the tournament, and a 98 percent chance to beat the Orange on Monday.

How SU beats UConn: After UConn’s opening round game against No. 16 Albany, Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma said that before every game, he asks his assistant coaches what his team would have to do to lose. Against the Great Danes, the coaching staff said that the team would have to miss “a lot” of shots. But against No. 8 SU on Monday, a team that was arguably underseeded and last met the Huskies in the national championship game, UConn doesn’t have as much room for failure as it did against Albany.

For the Orange to win, it will have to put together a perfect game in all facets. Brittney Sykes and Alexis Peterson will need to match or exceed their combined scoring average of nearly 43, and Gabby Cooper will have to step up from behind the arc like she did against Iowa State. The only way to beat a powerful offense like UConn is to match it shot for shot. So Sykes, Peterson and Cooper will all probably have to finish the game with over 20 points for the second straight game.

Defensively, SU needs to focus on shutting down Samuelson. The sophomore sharpshooter ranks fourth in 3-pointers made and 12th in 3-point shooting percentage in the nation. She also averages 3.39 3-pointers per game, and the Orange zone can’t let her get hot from beyond the arc.

The Huskies aren’t used to playing in close games, so if the Orange can keep Monday’s game within ten points, it has potential to pull the upset. Samuelson is the only UConn player that averages more than 31 minutes per game. A tightly contested game could potentially tire out a UConn side that isn’t used to running for 40 minutes straight, and give a well-conditioned SU team the upper hand.

Stat to know: 108 —  The Huskies have won 108 straight games, the all-time mark in the NCAA. Nov. 17, 2014, was the last time UConn lost, dropping an 88-86 overtime game at Stanford. UConn has not been ranked lower than No. 3 during the streak and boasts a dominant 155-1 record over its past 156 games.

Player to watch: Katie Lou Samuelson, Guard, No. 33

Samueslon is UConn’s replacement for Stewart, who graduated last year and now plays for the Seattle Storm of the WNBA, and she’s all but filled the role perfectly for the Huskies this season. She’s shooting 49.3 percent from the field, and her 20.8 points per game ranks No. 1 for the Huskies. Samuelson is also one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy, which is awarded annually to college basketball’s player of the year. Napheesa Collier, a forward for the Huskies, was named a finalist as well.

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