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UConn women’s basketball opponent preview: The contenders

Five preseason top-15 teams on the Huskies' non-conference slate will provide tough tests throughout the regular season.

Photo: Ian Bethune

The highlights of UConn women’s basketball’s schedule this season are, once again, the non-conference opponents. Five AP Preseason top-15 teams mark the most anticipated regular season matchups, with the earliest contest coming just over a week after the Huskies’ opener.

Maryland (November 16)

Maryland will give the Huskies their first true test of the season following an opener against Dayton and road trip to NC State. The Terps, which made the Elite Eight last season before falling to South Carolina, return many key pieces but will need to replace the production of Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers, which won’t be an easy task.

The addition of NC State’s Jakia Brown-Turner from the transfer portal should help that case. Maryland also returns its four top scorers behind Miller and Meyers. Most notably, Shyanne Sellers averaged double-figures for the Terps last season and also led the team in assists while Faith Masonius, Lavender Briggs and Brinae Alexander should round out the core for Maryland. The Terps are expected to compete with the top group in the Big 10, which is once again on track to produce multiple high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA (November 24)

UConn’s trip to the Cayman Islands for the Thanksgiving holiday is highlighted by perhaps the most intriguing matchup on the schedule. The Bruins were ranked fourth in the AP Preseason Poll, setting the stage for a potential top-five matchup.

All Pac-12 and All-American honorable mention guard Charisma Osborne, who elected to return for her fifth season, sets the pace for this UCLA squad on both ends of the floor. She’s flanked by the nation’s top recruiting class from 2022 headlined by Kiki Rice, which should only be better in their second seasons.

The Bruins also made one of the biggest moves in the transfer portal by adding the 2022 No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts (Stanford) to their already stacked sophomore class. Starters Emily Bessoir and Camryn Brown also return from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, and Oregon transfer Angela Dugalic should also be an exciting addition to this team after missing the 2022-23 season with an injury. Expectations are Final Four-high in Westwood for this Bruins squad.

Texas (December 3)

Texas returns much of the same roster that garnered a preseason top-5 ranking last year. While expectations for Vic Shaefer’s squad have tapered some entering 2023, they are still expected to be amongst the toughest defenses UConn will encounter — the Longhorns had the sixth-best Her Hoop Stats’ defensive rating in the country last season. The Huskies’ offense will face a tough test with a chance to pick up a high-quality road win.

Texas returns nine of its ten leaders in minutes from last season, losing only Sonya Morris (who transferred to the Longhorns from DePaul). Junior point guard Rori Harmon is the focal point of the lineup, but 2022-23 leading scorer Shaylee Gonzales also returns for the Longhorns’ backcourt. A healthy Aaliyah Moore should also improve Texas’ interior presence for the upcoming year.

Notre Dame (January 27)

Expectations for this year’s Irish squad are tough to judge with the status of All-American point guard Olivia Miles largely unknown. Miles suffered a knee injury late last season, which caused her to miss the postseason. Notre Dame still advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in her absence, but there is no clear answer on when or even if Miles will return this season.

Even without Miles, the Irish will return three other starters including leading scorer Sonia Citron, as well as Maddy Westbeld and Kylee Watson. KK Bransford, who played the most minutes off the bench last season, is another key piece of the 2023-24 squad. Notre Dame also notably added top-five recruit in point guard Hannah Hidalgo. Given UConn won’t meet the Irish until January, the probability of Miles being on the court seems higher but regardless, this matchup should be one of the best after the new year.

South Carolina (February 11)

South Carolina will look much different than last season with the entire starting lineup from the 2022-23 squad, including Aliyah Boston, having departed for the WNBA. That doesn’t leave the Gamecocks with a shortage of talent, however. Kamilla Cardoso, who nearly averaged a double-double despite playing under 20 minutes per game last season, returns to anchor the frontcourt. Raven Johnson has also proven her abilities at the point, and will be joined by Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao.

It may take some time for things to fall into place in Columbia this season with the changing of the guard underway, making the timing of this matchup perfect for the Huskies. Even if there are some bumps in the road for Dawn Staley’s squad early on, by February they’re likely to be a clear top-10 team and that’s well-positioned to give UConn a tough test on the road amidst its Big East schedule.

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