STORRS, Conn. — With the exception of a game against the U.S. national team back in 2007, UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has opted to schedule Division II or NAIA teams for the two preseason games in the last decade in large part so the next wave of freshmen get a taste of live game situations in front of UConn fans.
So the Huskies will host Division II Indiana (Pa.) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the first of two preseason games at Gampel Pavilion.
More than a few eyes will be on freshmen Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield and Kyla Irwin as they make their UConn debuts.
"I am so excited," said Bent, a 5-foot-9 guard from Centerville, Massachusetts. "I am sure it will be a little nerve wracking at first, but once the game starts and I get settled in, it will be a lot of fun."
Practices haven't always been a barrel of laughs. Tuesday's practice was supposed to wrap up around 5 p.m., but it ended early as UConn coach Geno Auriemma lectured the group on using this time to constantly improve. For good measure, there was a wind sprint just so Auriemma's message truly hit home.
"Every day is a different challenge, and I am relying on my teammates to help me," said Dangerfield, a 5-foot-5 guard from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
After joking that the leaders, since practice started, have been associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistant coaches Marisa Moseley and Shea Ralph, Auriemma said that sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson and junior Gabby Williams have found themselves with the opportunity to be the voice for the team more often than anybody else in the last couple of weeks. Time will tell if they take to the leadership role as easily as the graduated trio of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck did.
So what advice are UConn's returning starters giving to the Huskies' newcomers?
"Being able to listen to what they (coaches) are telling me," Dangerfield said. "Taking coaching in stride, don't take it personal and don't hang my head and be able to keep playing."
Since 2007, nine freshmen have scored in double figures in their first preseason game at UConn. There are some familiar names on the list including Maya Moore, Tiffany Hayes, Caroline Doty, Kelly Faris, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart, Jefferson, Tuck and current star Kia Nurse. However, a year ago highly-touted freshmen Napheesa Collier and Samuelson combined to go 4 of 18 from the field and Stefanie Dolson struggled to find the range in her Husky debut.
"I don't know. Exhibition games are funny sometimes," Auriemma said. "Kids can go completely the other way and be completely overwhelmed. I just want them to compete really hard. The things that we have worked on, just try do those things the best you can. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be tentative out there. Just be aggressive, and I think they will be. They are good that way. They don't allow things to get them down. They are a pretty positive bunch."
This article was written by Jim Fuller from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.