Top-ranked UConn comes to the Erwin Center Monday and will give Texas a measuring stick to see how far the Longhorns have come under head coach Karen Aston, now in her sixth season.
The Huskies (15-0, 5-0 American Athletic Conference) don’t really need an introduction. More than 10,000 fans are expected to file into the Erwin Center to see Geno Auriemma’s 11-time national championship program.
This marquee matchup should be a win-win situation for both teams. Auriemma gets to showcase his team in a state ripe with high school basketball talent. The draw of a program like UConn will also give Texas a large home crowd, likely the largest since Oklahoma drew 11,245 in 2007.
Aston said the game will be a great event for the sport as the game will be the night’s prime-time game on ESPN2.
“I’m really excited that the community embraced it because it is a game for women’s basketball regardless of what happens,” she said. “I appreciate Geno for coming here in the middle of his conference play. And I appreciate our school and ESPN for asking us to do it. It’s in the middle of our Big 12 Conference schedule but it is one that players want to play in.”
UConn warmed up for their showdown with the Longhorns by dismantling Houston 95-35 on Saturday in Houston. with a 95-35 victory Saturday. By Sunday morning the Huskies had made the 170-mile trip to Austin and were practicing at the Erwin Center.
“It’s going to be a crazy, crazy environment,” Auriemma said. “In the last 4-5 years it seemed we played (UT) almost every year but it was in the NCAA Tournament or in some kind of event. We have always managed to play them on neutral courts. On campus, this is going to be crazy.
“I think the fact they haven’t beaten us is going to be a real issue. I think it’s going to be hard for us because they are going to be off-the-charts crazy about beating us and I don’t know if there is a lot of love lost between us and them.”
UConn has an 8-0 record against Texas, but only one game has been played at the Erwin Center.
The seventh-ranked Longhorns have made significant strides under Aston, reaching the NCAA Tournament four straight years while going 102-37 in that span.
“This is like a bowl game for us,” said Chris Plonsky, UT’s director of women’s athletics for 16 years. “This (game) is a credit to Ariel (Atkins), Brooke (McCarty), the seniors and Karen. Our kids need to be confident. There won’t be a lack of effort.”
Texas (14-2, 5-1) warmed up for UConn by defeating Kansas 79-62 in a Big 12 game Saturday.
Atkins said the Longhorns are “in a really good position” to play UConn.
“We’re learning how to pay attention in practice, learning how to focus better and learning how to prepare with the mindset that we have to go in and actually use what the coaches tell us in the game,” she said. “Not just sit and listen in film, but actually apply it to the game.”
UConn is among the national leaders in several individual and team statistics.
Guard Kia Nurse ranks third in the country in three-point field goal percentage (48.7) and teammate Crystal Dangerfield ranks fourth (47.8).
UConn ranks second in team offense — behind Baylor — with 90.8 points per game. The Huskies are No. 1 in field goal percentage (53.1) and No. 1 in assists per game (22.9).
Texas has some impressive numbers, too.
The Longhorns rank second in rebounding margin, averaging 14.4 more boards than its opponents. Texas ranks No. 11 in team scoring (85.2 points per game) while junior guard Lashann Higgs ranks No. 14 in field goal percentage (60.5) and Atkins ranks 44th (55.0).
What will it take to beat UConn?
“It will take a really exceptional performance, no question about it,” Aston said. “They so good in so many different ways. They’re fast, they’re really good in transition, they’re solid defensively. They have five people on the court that can score at any moment.”