NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The standard for the UConn Huskies has been so high for so long that a road victory over an unranked team by double digits feels much like a loss.
And coach Geno Auriemma makes clear this UConn squad has a lot of work ahead to measure up.
“Maybe because I’ve said this for so many years, and it didn’t come true that nobody believe me that this is not going to be easy,” Auriemma said. “This time I mean it. This is not going to be easy, which is good. It’s not supposed to be.”
Megan Walker scored 25 points, and the fourth-ranked UConn Huskies beat Vanderbilt 64-51 Wednesday night in the program’s first game at Memorial Gym since 1992.
The Huskies (2-0) now have won six straight against Vanderbilt (2-1) after dropping the first two between these programs. But proof of the difference between last year’s team and these Huskies is this victory was much closer than last year when UConn beat Vanderbilt 80-42 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“Things aren’t flowing like they have in the past, and we all know it,” Dangerfield said. “Coaching staff knows it, the players know it. We’ll figure it out tomorrow, figure something out.”
Auriemma hadn’t brought his Huskies to Memorial Gym since March 1992 when Vandy ended UConn’s run in the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year after the first of its now 20 record Final Four berths. Even with former Vanderbilt guard Jasmine Lister now an Auriemma assistant, the reason for this visit was Dangerfield.
This was Dangerfield’s chance to play close to her home in Murfreesboro, 35 miles southeast of Music City. Dangerfield had 22 friends and family behind the UConn bench with friends, former teammates and coaches scattered around Memorial Gym. She even has a couple friends playing now for Vanderbilt.
“This was a nice homecoming,” Dangerfield said. “It was a great crowd and everything, but … we still didn’t do what we wanted to do.”
She didn’t knock down her first bucket, a 3-pointer, until 6:07 left in the second quarter. Dangerfield finished with eight points and four assists.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 14 points, and Christyn Williams had 13.
Koi Love led Vanderbilt with 14 points, Brinae Alexander had 11 and Mariella Fasoula and LeaLea Carter each added 10.
Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White said she saw lots to build on in her fourth season.
“We’re playing a program that’s arguably been the best program in the country for nearly two decades, and we went out and we battled,” White said. “We had certain points in the ballgame where they did what UConn does, and they capitalized on every mistake that we made. It got away from us a little bit and it would’ve been easy to fold.”
Vanderbilt led 7-4 in the opening minutes. Then Walker hit a 3 with 6:26 left in the first quarter to put UConn ahead to stay as part of a 10-2 spurt that left the Huskies up 14-9 on a 3 by Williams. UConn led 18-13 after the first quarter, then 33-23 at halftime after the teams combined to shoot just 4 of 21.
The Huskies put away the game in the third. Dangerfield hit a pull-up jumper with 9:39 to open the quarter and start a 20-4 run by UConn. Vanderbilt never got closer than 15 in the fourth.
UConn: The Huskies played this game soon after learning the NCAA had denied junior guard Evina Westbrook’s appeal denying the Tennessee transfer’s request to play this season. Auriemma said there are no other venues left.
“It was denied,” Auriemma said. “It was denied. It’s the best I can tell you. It was denied.”
Vanderbilt: The Commodores had won their first two games for the first time since 2014-15. With opening the season playing the first six at home, this was a good test. The Huskies forced 23 turnovers and turned those into 21 points. But the Commodores outrebounded UConn 40-35.
AND ANOTHER ONE
Paige Bueckers, the nation’s top-rated player for 2020, signed her national letter of intent earlier Wednesday after verbally committing to play for UConn earlier this year. She wrote on Twitter she had been watching her sisters sign for what felt like forever. “But to finally do it myself felt unreal,” she wrote. “Officially a husky.”
UConn: Visit Temple on Sunday.
Vanderbilt: Host St. Louis on Sunday.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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