No. 5 UConn opens with 72-61 win over rebuilding Cal
STORRS — UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he’s had teams play worse in opening games.
He’s certainly had some play a lot better.
Christyn Williams scored 24 points and the fifth-ranked Huskies began their season Sunday with a closer-than-expected 72-61 win over California.
Megan Walker scored 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Crystal Dangerfield added 14 points for UConn, which has not lost a season opener since 1995.
“It was a weird game,” Auriemma said. “We had a hard time getting anything going on the offensive end. It was kind of a mish-mosh of things. So I was really disappointed in that, because I think we’ve spent a lot of time on that. That kind of surprised me a little bit.”
Sara Anastasieska led all scorers with 25 points and Alysia Styles added 13 for Cal (1-1) which led just once at 7-6 but stayed within striking distance of the Huskies for most of the game.
“This is a standard that we as coaches now get to hold them to for the rest of the season because we’ve seen what we can do against a really good team that is No. 5 in the country,” first-year coach Charmin Smith said.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa (11 points, 13 rebounds) scored the game’s first basket, but UConn made just one of its next 12 shots. Anastasieska hit a jumper to put the Bears in front, before Dangerfield’s long 3-pointer gave UConn the lead for good. Another Dangerfield jumper at the end of the quarter bounced high off the rim and into the basket, giving UConn a 13-10 lead after 10 minutes
Williams got going in the second quarter. The sophomore, who made 10 of her 17 shots in the game, hit all four she took in that quarter, helping UConn to a 37-30 halftime lead.
The Huskies extended that to 61-47 after three quarters but were outscored by Cal 14-11 the fourth.
“We didn’t accomplish a lot of what we wanted to accomplish today,” Dangerfield said. “We have two more games this week. We have two more cracks at it. So we’re going to go back and make sure the next time out we’re proud of what we did.”
Cal: This is supposed to be a rebuilding year. The Bears lost four starters, including first-round WNBA draft pick Kristine Anigwe from last season and are picked to finished near the bottom of the Pac-12. They lost their opener at Harvard 56-53.
UConn: When Napheesa Collier (20.8 points per game) and Katie Lou Samuelson (18.5) graduated to the WNBA in the spring, they took with them 47% of the Huskies offense. On Sunday, four UConn players were responsible for all but two points.
“It’s a lot different without Lou and Phee, but us four have to take up what they did last year,” Williams said. “So, we knew that coming into this season and we know that moving forward, so we’ll just have to work through it.
STAT OF THE GAME
The Huskies hit 13 of their 21 free throws, while the Bears had just four points from the line, making all four of their foul shots.
Anastasieska, who is from Sydney, played just 10 games in an injury-filled sophomore year and missed all of last season at Cal with a back injury. She went 9 for 21, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
“This is really her first action as a Bear, and people are starting to notice, Smith said. “We know what she’s capable of, we’ve seen her in practice every day, and I’m really excited for her because she had a chance to play at her best against UConn.”
UConn’s two freshmen had a tough start to their careers. Anna Makurat, who came to UConn after playing in a Polish professional league, took just two shots and didn’t score. Aubrey Griffin made a free throw and missed her lone shot.
UConn still doesn’t have a final ruling on the status of Tennessee transfer Evina Westbrook. The 6-foot guard who averaged almost 15 points last season, was denied a waiver that would have allowed her to play this season, but the Huskies have appealed that ruling. The school hopes to hear something in the next week.
Cal: The Bears head back to Berkeley for their home opener on Nov. 17 against UC Riverside.
UConn: The Huskies hit the road for games on Wednesday at Vanderbilt and next Sunday at Temple.