Three things to watch: UK Hoops vs. UConn

KINGSTON, R.I. –  The Cats are one win away from a first-ever trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.  Standing in their way, however, is seven-time National Champion UConn, a team that has made four-straight final fours.

Connecticut (32-4), the number one seed in the Kingston Region, is ranked No. 3 in both the AP and the Coaches Polls and has an RPI ranking of four. Three of their four losses have come to teams in the Elite Eight, losing once to Baylor and twice to Notre Dame.

The Huskies have destroyed all their competition en route to the Elite Eight, defeating Prairie View A&M 83-47, Kansas State 72-26 and Penn State 77-59.

Here are three things to look for if the Cats have any hope of pulling off the upset and advancing to a program-first Final Four:

1 – The Cats’ relentless defensive pressure must create UConn turnovers. The Huskies are not the best at handling pressure, turning the ball over an average of 14.5 times per game. In their four losses, UConn has committed 18.5 turnovers on average, including a whopping 26 on the road in January against Notre Dame. In UConn’s wins, they have a +6.3 turnover margin. In their four losses, they have a -5.3 turnover margin.

The Cats force an average of 27.1 turnovers-per-game, and lead the NCAA with a +9.3 turnover margin. If the Cats can force more than 20 UConn turnovers, it will greatly increase their chances of a victory.

2 – UK sophomore forward Samarie Walker, a transfer from UConn, must keep UConn’s center Stefanie Dolson in check. Walker secured a double-double in Sunday’s effort against Gonzaga, scoring 16 points and collecting 12 rebounds. More than just the numbers, Walker was a presence in the middle, playing good position defense and seemingly being in the mix for every rebound and loose ball.

UConn does not offer a large quantity of players with size in the interior, but they make up for it with quality. Dolson averages 10.1 points-per-game and 5.9 rebounds. Dolson’s 6-foot-5 frame is used extensively beyond the free-throw line, setting screens for both shooters and penetrators. Walker’s defensive effort on Dolson will be crucial if the Cats want to advance.

3 – The Cats must help each other on defense better than any other game this season. UConn works the ball on offense and sets multiple screen on each possession. Although a high-scoring team, the Huskies will use clock and make the Cats work on the half-court defensive side of the ball. UConn loves to go back-door, and at times against Penn State Monday, it effectively led to a layup drill for the Huskies. The Cats can’t afford to take contested shots on offense and give up uncontested layups on the defensive end and stay in this game. The Huskies shoot 47.7 percent from the field for the season (compared to the Cats’ 40.4 percent) because their offense creates great looks at the rim. To compete Tuesday night, the Cats must work together on defense to prevent UConn layups out of the half-court offensive set.