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Mike Anthony | The Hartford Courant | January 31, 2018

What to know before UConn's showdown with South Carolina

  Can Kia Nurse & Co. keep their win streak going vs. Dawn Staley's Gamecocks?

No. 1 UConn takes on defending champion and No. 7 South Carolina on Thursday evening. Here's what you need to know to get ready for one of the biggest matchups of the year:

1. Walker Watch

A lot can probably learned about where Megan Walker is in her progression. She's coming off three strong performances, was named the AAC's freshman of the week, has seemingly locked down the seventh spot in the rotation and earned the right to play an important role down the stretch.

Still, UConn's most recent games have been against Temple, Memphis and Tulane -- and playing South Carolina on the road is a totally different situation, more daunting and probably a closer game with few minutes for Geno Auriemma to waste. Walker did not enter UConn's game at Texas Jan. 15 but she has earned trust since then. If she checks in and plays well, UConn has grown as a team.

2. Stevens In The Mix

Azura Stevens sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules and, therefore, was in street clothes as UConn defeated South Carolina at Gampel Pavilion for its 100th consecutive victory.

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On Thursday, her 22nd birthday, she adds a new dimension to this rivalry. She has been particularly efficient on offense, and this would be a good game for her to have a defensive breakthrough by helping UConn on the glass and altering shots attempted by players such as Wilson.

3. Handling Wilson

Expected to be the No. 1 selection in the upcoming WNBA draft, Wilson is a force inside with an ability to score from the perimeter as well. Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier handled the bulk of the defensive load last year against Wilson, and handled it well. UConn might play it similarly this time, with Stevens probably matching up with Wilson, too.

4. Inside/Outside Approach

South Carolina does not have strong percentages from the perimeter but Auriemma warned that the Gamecocks are a better shooting team than one might realize.

Many opponents allow South Carolina more room on the perimeter in order to focus on Wilson and Jennings inside.

5. Soreness, Minutes

Many Huskies were given a close look and a breather during practice leading up to this game. On Tuesday, Katie Lou Samuelson made it through the team's workout but left the Werth Champions Center immediately afterward because she felt ill. Gabby Williams (hip) and Crystal Dangerfield (shin splints) continue to be limited in practice and less-than-100 percent. Both missed part of practice Tuesday.

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Kia Nurse hit the sideline for a little while, too, with hamstring soreness. The Huskies are preparing as usual, and players and Geno Auriemma doesn't seem overly concern, saying that these situations simply need to be monitored.

6. Atmosphere

Colonial Life Arena is considered one of the loudest and most intimidating places to play. UConn earned a 66-54 victory in its most recent trip there, before a sellout of 18,000 on Feb. 8, 2016. The Huskies can't allow the crowd to affect them, and recent experience in a victory at Texas should help. Most UConn players used to the big stage, of course. "Nothing new," Williams said.

This article is written by Mike Anthony from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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