The college basketball season is underway and the most exciting freshman in the country might just be Crystal Dangerfield, the 5-foot-6 freshman point guard for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team.
On Thursday night against No. 2 Baylor, Dangerfield — in just her second collegiate game — came off the bench and dropped 19 points, five assists, and four rebounds to help give the Huskies something rather rare these days: an upset.
It may be hard to believe, but this year UConn is ranked way down at No. 3 in the country. For now, anyway.
They have won 77 consecutive games and the past three national championships, yes, but the departures of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck (selected first, second, and third overall in the WNBA Draft, respectively) means that Geno Auriemma’s young and comparatively unproven team this year may just be beatable.
Auriemma has even said publicly he isn’t sure what to expect of this year’s squad.
“I’m really struggling with what the expectations should be for this team,” Auriemma said, according to ABC. “It has kind of been a real headache-inducing kind of thing for me because I can’t figure out what should the expectations be.”
He added: “Should the expectations be, ‘This is Connecticut basketball. Of course you should be in the Final Four and play in the national championship game.’ And right after I think that, I think, ‘You got to be out of your mind, why would you expect that from this particular group?’ And then right after I say, ‘Why are you disrespecting these guys?'”
But at home on Thursday night in Storrs against Baylor, the Huskies did their best to settle Auriemma’s headache.
Tied at 54-54 with 7:27 remaining, the Huskies opened a 16-2 run never looked back, winning 72-61. Dangerfield, up against a team returning four starters and adding arguably the best freshman class in the country, was easily the best player on the court.
That stretch included a nice steal by Dangerfield in the lane that led to a fast-break layup.
The next trip down the court she showed her speed and fearlessness, driving the lane, splitting some much taller defenders, and spinning a shot in off the glass.
But the big blow came later when she buried a dagger with a baseline jumper off the glass late in the 4th quarter. Look at that back-door cut!
Dangerfield’s 19 points came on an efficient 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three and she came up huge when it mattered most.
“A game like that didn’t faze me,” Dangerfield said. “Big stage. Big game. I love games like this.”
Auriemma had some glowing remarks for his freshman, hinting at the greatness that may come.
“I don’t want to say she’s as good as any point guard that we have ever had,” Auriemma said afterward. “That is saying too much too soon. But I think any other freshman in the country right now, she is as good a guard as there is in the country coming in.”
That may not come as a shock, considering she won two Tennessee state titles and scored over 2,000 points in high school. But the expectations for a prize recruit are higher at UConn, and delivering in such a big game so early into her career can’t be overstated.
She won’t be that great in every game, of course. In UConn’s first game, a nail-biting 78-76 win against 12th-ranked FSU, she put up just five points on 2-of-6 shooting. But if she can continue to improve, and play like she did against Baylor, UConn will return to its familiar, untouchable ways.
“I know there are a lot of people that don’t believe in us this year,” Dangerfield said. “We want to send a message every night we step on the floor.”
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