Preview: UConn Women’s Basketball vs UCF | AAC Championship | ESPN2, 7 p.m.
The UConn Huskies, who will still be without senior Katie Lou Samuelson for the game, have a lot on the line. UConn’s sixth straight AAC tournament championship, undefeated AAC record, and an expected No. 1 seed in the Albany region are all at stake.
Central Florida heads into the matchup as the 2-seed in the AAC tournament, coming off a 66-58 victory over Cincinnati in the semifinals. UConn faced the Knights twice during the regular season, winning both contests by an average margin of 36.5 points. UCF is not a particularly strong team on the offensive end, shooting just 41 percent from the floor on the season, and ranking 195th in points per possession. They will, however, look to challenge UConn on the defensive end, where UCF is a top-15 team nationally in points per possession allowed, and try to secure the upset.
The Knights apply excellent defensive pressure, averaging over 10 steals per game. They have also held their opponents to scoring just 0.69 points per play on the season, which ranks 12th in the country. Of course, UConn is not an average opponent for UCF and the Huskies have still managed to score 0.97 points per play against the Knights this season. UConn did, however, turn the ball over 21 times in their last matchup, a 78-41 UConn win on February 17.
Central Florida plays a physical game, committing an average of 18.3 fouls per game. In their last game against UConn, the Knights were particularly physical against Samuelson, sending her to the line for 12 attempts. The game before, it was Napheesa Collier who led the team with 10 free throw attempts. It can be expected that Collier will again take the brunt of the physical defense in the championship game.
Even with the Knights’ strong defense and Samuelson on the bench, the Huskies are still the clear favorite in this one. If Collier continues to play at the level she has in the first two games of the tournament and the underclassmen continue to step up to the plate in Samuelson’s absence, UConn should be able to secure the championship.
Keys to the Game for UConn
Taking care of the ball: On the season, UCF has forced their opponents to turn the ball over on 25 percent of their possessions. Especially with their second leading scorer sidelined, UConn will need to take care of the ball to avoid turnovers and take advantage of all of their offensive possessions.
Dominating the defensive glass: The Knights don’t shoot the ball particularly well, but have collected almost 36 percent of their own misses on the season. If the Huskies can limit second chance opportunities, they will put less pressure on their ability to knock down shots at the other end to get the win.
Free throw shooting: With Central Florida’s physical defense, the Huskies will likely earn many trips to the free throw line. The Knight’s have held UConn to under 50 percent shooting from the floor this season, so the Huskies need to capitalize on their opportunities from the line.
Finishing with a strong performance: Winning this game is crucial for UConn’s seeding in the NCAA tournament, but finishing with a good team effort is equally important for the Huskies’ momentum going forward. Particularly, if the underclassmen (Megan Walker, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa) can finish with a strong performance it should help their confidence heading onto the biggest stage of the season, and serve notice to Geno Auriemma that he can rely on them as well.
How to Watch
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT
When: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network