By JIM FULLER
New Haven Register
COLUMBUS, Ohio â€” It was almost as if the collective groan from the rest of the womenâ€™s college basketball world could be heard inside the site of the 2018 Final Four.
Top-ranked Connecticut came into the season with an embarrassment of riches. Not only are the Huskies the only womenâ€™s college basketball team to return three first-team All-Americans, but Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma can also call upon game-tested Canadian Olympian Kia Nurse.
OK, how about the fifth starter?
Sophomore guard Crystal Dangerfield was a highly-touted recruit out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but was coming off an up and down freshman season. The last thing the other powerhouse programs needed to see was a supremely-confident Dangerfield draining six 3-pointers to lead UConn to a 78-53 win over No. 10 Stanford on Sunday in the first game of the Countdown to Columbus doubleheader at Nationwide Arena.
Dangerfield had 13 of her career-high 24 points in the first quarter. She also had a career-best four steals as the Huskies led by as many as 42 points in the emphatic victory.
â€śWhen you have a point guard that can do that, it changes your game completely,â€ť Auriemma said. â€śShe is pretty sharp when it comes to when to [shoot] and when not to, the patience that she shows with the ball, she is rarely rushed.â€ť
It took all of 75 seconds for Dangerfield to hit her first shot. By the midway point of the first quarter, the player who scored in double-figures only six times in 31 games during her freshman year already had 10 points as the Huskies jumped out to the early 17-4 lead.
â€śIt feels good,â€ť Dangerfield said, â€śI am going to go back home and try to build on that. With the other four [starters], I am going to learn from them as well, I am trying to figure out what was going to work.â€ť
Plenty was working for Dangerfield against the Cardinal. She was 6-of-7 from 3-point range, some seemingly taken when Dangerfield was almost as close to half court as she was the 3-point line. More often than not, she made the right pass and was a disruptive force on defense.
â€śI wasnâ€™t surprised at all with what she did today,â€ť UConn senior forward Gabby Williams said. â€śWe all saw how comfortable she looked, she helped me get my energy up. It was fun to play with her, it is fun having another kind of speed demon to be a pest on defense.
â€śOffensively, how she was leading, the confidence that she was shooting with, it just showed how much more mature she is.â€ť
Dangerfield and Williams turned up the defensive pressure after a run of the mill start to the game. UConn would have six steals by the end of the first quarter and 11 by halftime.
â€śWe were trading baskets with them and I didnâ€™t want it to turn into that kind of game,â€ť Williams said. â€śI felt like we were playing their game, I didnâ€™t feel like they were playing ours. I didnâ€™t want to trade baskets with them. I just wanted to find a way where we could get a stop and score rather than a score and score.â€ť
UConn led 49-14 at halftime as Stanford missed its final 12 shots and was just 5-of-31 from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
â€śOur defense was really good [in the first half],â€ť Auriemma said. â€śI donâ€™t know if we could have played much better. I thought the effort and execution was really good and it led to a lot of stuff at the other end. That is kind of who we are, we create stuff off our defense and go from there. I thought the second half was not worth mentioning.â€ť
UConnâ€™s intensity dipped a bit after halftime, but the Cardinal were down by too many points to seriously threaten the Huskies. UConn won its season opener for the 22nd straight time and have not lost back-to-back games since the start of the 1993-94 season.
Katie Lou Samuelson had 21 points, while Williams finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Duke transfer AzurĂˇ Stevens had eight points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots in her UConn debut.
Diâ€™Jonai Carrington came off the bench to score 21 points for the Cardinal (0-2).
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.