The nation’s top two teams face off in the Women’s Battle 4 Atlantis Championship Monday in the Bahamas.
What you need to know
What: Championship of Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament
When: Monday, noon
Where: Paradise Island, The Bahamas
Records: UConn (3-0), USC (5-0)
Radio: UConn Sports Network
KEEP AN EYE ON
Bench production: UConn coach Geno Auriemma has rotated freshman Azzi Fudd and graduate transfer Dorka Juhász as his first players off the bench. In the Huskies’ blowout win over Minnesota on Saturday, Aureimma played 10 of his available 12 players with bench players averaging 12.4 minutes. However, in Sunday’s closer game with South Florida, only Fudd (27) and Juhász (12) got substantial minutes.
While the best players will play the most minutes, it will be interesting to see how, or if, Auriemma gives his starters rest on Monday against a South Carolina team that can match UConn’s talent. With junior Aubrey Griffin sitting out the past three games due to a high ankle sprain, UConn only has 12 available players compared to USC’s 15. We saw how sophomore star Paige Bueckers is capable of playing a full 40 last weakend against Arkansas, but South Carolina will be a much more physical opponent for Bueckers.
To compare the two’s bench: 26 of South Carolina’s 80 points in its rout of Oregon on Sunday came from its bench. During its season opener against No. 5 NC State, the Gamecocks’ bench contributed 18 points in a 66-57 win. On Sunday, Fudd and Juhász had a combined 20 points compared to the Huskies’ bench (four players scoring) totaling 19 points against Minnesota.
Battle of title contenders: With South Carolina and UConn already expected to separate themselves as two of top teams come April, Monday’s showdown will give a first-look into how they match on the court. How does USC’s four freshmen compare to UConn’s three? How does Fudd handle the intense competitive environment? Has South Carolina coach Dawn Staley come up with a way to slow down and stop Bueckers?
UConn defeated the Gamecocks last season in Storrs (63-59 in overtime) and will get the chance to face them again later this regular season in Columbia, S.C. (January 27 on ESPN).
While a lot can and will change for both programs between now and March, having this early of a matchup will only help each become stronger earlier as they to fix offensive and defensive flaws.
“If we wanted to play teams where we never got challenged, we never got smacked, we never had to come back, find out a little bit about ourselves during the timeout, then there’s no point in being here,” Auriemma said after Sunday’s game against South Florida.
UConn’s defense: The Huskies have struggled with finding a consistent, defensive groove this season. While they chomped back at Minnesota after the Gophers got within one in the first half, the Huskies weren’t able to create enough transitional stops and let their offense do the heavy lifting.
Against South Florida, UConn was better, grabbing 23 defensive rebounds to USF’s 19. But the Huskies still lacked consistency, as the Bulls were able to string together an 11-0 run and lead by three.
South Carolina will challenge the Huskies the most on defense, especially with their size and versatility. The Gamecocks lead the nation with 36 total blocks and are second with 9.0 blocks per game. Meanwhile UConn is averaging 4.6 blocks per game.
In order stop and slow down South Carolina, UConn will need to play with a more physical defense in order to control its own rebounds and work around USC’s bigs. Keep an eye on South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, the 6-foot-5 junior who was heavily recruited by UConn out of Worcester, Mass.
“Obviously it’s hard to scout South Carolina because you don’t want to watch them play too much because they just have so many ways, their post players are just so dominant. They’re just so dominant on both ends,” Auriemma said. “Offensively and defensively, they’re post players are just so dominant. And their guards are super athletic, super quick. It’s a really really hard team to prepare for no matter what kind of team you have.”
Player Pos. PPG
Paige Bueckers G. 21.0
Christyn Williams G. 19.7
Olivia Nelson-Ododa F. 6.7
Evina Westbrook G. 11.7
Aaliyah Edwards F. 5.7
Player Pos. PPG
Destanni Henderson G. 13.2
Aliyah Boston F. 13.4
Zia Cooke G. 12.8
Brea Beal G. 5.6
Victaria Saxton F. 3.8