Thursday, December 7, 2017

Top-ranked Connecticut looks to return to full strength at DePaul

                                        Photo Credit: David Butler II- USA TODAY Sports

Life can take an indirect turn at a moment’s notice.

The top-ranked Connecticut Huskies (7-0) are not immune despite winning three of the last four national championships. With the DePaul Blue Demons (6-2) on the horizon on Friday at Wintrust Arena, the Huskies earned arguably their most impressive win of the season— an 80-71, come-from-behind win over the then-No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 3. UConn played without Gabby Williams (migraine) for the second half and star center Katie Lou Samuelson (ankle) for the fourth quarter.

The Huskies were in unfamiliar territory as they trailed 65-54 in the early stages of fourth quarter, but rallied behind Kia Nurse, who scored seven of her 13 points in the period. Depth proved to be ultimate factor in Connecticut’s win and expected to have its full core ready for the trip to Chicago's South Loop neighborhood.

Samuelson is one of four players averaging double figures and leads the Huskies in scoring with 17.0 points per game and finished with a team-high 18 points in the win against the Irish.

Azura Stevens has proven to be a double-double machine on most nights with a team-high 9.3 rebounds per game, to go along with 14.6 PPG and serves as the perfect complement to Samuelson in the Huskies’ frontcourt.

Dominance can be the simple term used for UConn’s 14-1 mark against DePaul all-time with double-digit wins in its last 10 meetings. Despite the one-sided results, the Huskies can never count out the power of #DePaulBall as it is third in the country in scoring offense (92.0) and tops in three-point makes per game (13.6).

In a transition season piecing together their new identity with Jessica January and Brooke Schulte gone due to graduation, the Blue Demons have dropped games to Northern Colorado and Florida Gulf Coast, but defeated then-No. 20 Oklahoma, 111-108 in overtime on Nov. 13, highlighted by a three-pointer from Amarah Coleman at the buzzer.

The philosophy of sharing the ball has resulted with six players in double figures scoring on average, led by Ashton Millender’s 15.4 points per game. Millender’s presence has been much needed after missing 25 games last season with a stress reaction.

Junior Mart’e Grays has returned with a vengeance after sitting out last season with a torn achilles tendon. The 6-foot-2 forward has averaged 14.1 points per game and 4.0 rebounds in eight games.

Sophomore Kelly Campbell has proven to be the ultimate triple threat for the Blue Demons with 12.1 PPG, a team-high 5.6 assists per game and 5.8 RPG. Campbell led the way with 18 points on 7-of-9 from the field in an 88-47 route of Loyola (CHI) on Dec. 4.

With the odds stacked against the Blue Demons once more, if they can finish any better than last season's 91-46 loss to the Huskies in the 2017 edition, then the next step could be taken for a team, which still has the Northwestern Wildcats and Irish left on their non-conference slate.

No. 1 Connecticut at DePaul

Site: Wintrust Arena, Chicago. Ill.

Tipoff: 6 p.m. CT

TV/Online: FS1/FOX Sports Go

Commentators: Lisa Byington and LaChina Robinson