BRIDGEPORT >> Since Crystal Dangerfield arrived on campus, the highly-touted freshman guard has been pushed to raise her level of play up a few notches and prodded to increase her work rate.
Just in case Dangerfield had any questions of what type of player her coaches and teammates want her to be, Exhibit A was on the court in Saturday’s Sweet 16 game in the form of UCLA mercurial junior point guard Jordin Canada.
Canada, like Dangerfield, came into college with plenty of experience as well as more than her share of gold medals during her time playing on various USA Basketball teams. Canada has learned how to use her speed to aid not just her game but that of her teammates while becoming a more refined offensive player. More than anything, the 5-foot-6 Canada plays with a physicality that enables her to hold her own and even get the upper hand on taller opponents.
“She is tough, she is physical,” UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said of Canada. “They post her up. I am hoping Crystal Dangerfield can be like that. There are a lot of players we’ve faced that she can benefit from but at her size, she plays a lot bigger, she has a big heart. She plays on both sides of the ball, defensively she creates a lot of havoc and on the offensive end she does whatever she wants, she controls the tempo for them. I am hoping down the road that Crystal is able to do that for us.”
Dangerfield played 17 minutes in the 86-71 win over UCLA and often times she was matched us on Canada, who is listed at 5-foot-6 just one inch taller than Dangerfield’s listed height.
“She aggressive,” Dangerfield said. “She loves the ball in her hands and when she gets in the open court, she is unstoppable.”
So what does Dangerfield think she can learn from Canada, who had 20 points and 11 assists against the Huskies?
“Being a real floor leader because she controls so much for their team and defensively she pushes you hard,” Dangerfield said.
After the game, UConn coach Geno Auriemma took a few extra seconds to chat with Canada.
“I’m assuming he thought I was a senior because he said, ‘congrats on a great career, good luck on the next level,” Canada said with a laugh.
It has been a tournament to remember for the Pac-12 with no team making more of its opportunities than Oregon, a No. 10 seed ready to face UConn for a chance to go to the Final Four.
“I think the Pac-12 prepared us well for this tournament,” Oregon sophomore forward Oti Gildon said after Oregon’s 77-63 win over heavily-favored Maryland. “Maryland was definitely a really good team, but we’ve played Stanford and UCLA and teams like that. I think we were prepared for them when we came into this game.”
UCLA coach Cori Close, who will be welcoming UConn and fellow No. 1 seed Baylor to campus in the first couple weeks of the 2017-18 season, has a good sense about how dangerous this Oregon team can be since the Ducks and Bruins split games during the regular season.
“In March, you have to have great guard play. Oregon has great guard play,” Close said. “They’re going to have to read the screen and roll really well, handle all those switches. There’s not a mismatch. A lot of times when people switch as much as they do, there’s a mismatch you can exploit. I think that’s going to be harder.”
Stanford is also still alive so there’s a chance that UConn sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson could face her older sister Karlie in the tournament, but both teams would need to reach the national championship game.
“We haven’t spoken about playing each other,” Katie Lou Samuelson said. “I don’t think we would think about it until that point when we got there, but we both have tough roads.”
The sophomore season for former Capital Prep star Kiah Gillespie came to end when Maryland lost to Oregon. The Meriden native didn’t get a chance to make a contribution as she was not among the 11 Terrapins to get into the game.
It marked the third time in her sophomore season that she wasn’t summoned off the bench. She also did not see any action against No. 1 UConn in December or in the Big Ten semifinals against Michigan State.
Gillespie, who went from averaging 10.9 minutes per game as a freshman to 9 a contest as a sophomore, has tried to take a positive approach even though she has played more than 10 minutes just once in Maryland’s final 14 games of the season.
“Just be ready when my number is called,” Gillespie said. “A lot of people come to college thinking they are entitled to things and that is not the case. You have to work for everything. If you are outworking people, that says a lot about you.
“It is definitely a demanding type of business and if you are producing results, there is always somebody better than you, so I think it is definitely a lesson and it is something that is letting me grow. It is very difficult especially coming from somewhere where I used to play a lot but I think it is a blessing. I think it is going to help me become a better person in the end.”