She was on the floor with two All-Americans and two others that would be WNBA first-round draft picks. But when the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's game at Texas last Jan. 15 came down to the final seconds, those four stars wanted Crystal Dangerfield to have the ball.
And why not? The Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native was playing as well as any point guard in the country. Dangerfield capped her 40-minute effort by sinking two free throws with 8.3 seconds left to ice a 75-71 win over the Longhorns.
But the second half of the season proved to be a struggle in many ways as she dealt with shin splints. Her practice time was limited and she was held out of two games in February in an attempt to ease the discomfort. Still she was named to the all-American Athletic Conference second team and to a pair of postseason all-tournament teams.
If the Huskies are to make a run at a 12th national championship, however, they'll need Dangerfield to be healthy and playing at a high level the entire season.
"I think I was more comfortable last year in the flow of the game and understanding reads in the offense," Dangerfield said. "Sophomore to junior year, I think I'm even more comfortable. I'm able to control my pace a lot better. With this team it's going to be about making whoever is out there on the floor with me better.
"Last season was frustrating because it got to a point that they had to take me out of practice and, of course, I want to practice to get the reps in with my teammates. It is what it is, and hopefully I don't revert back but keep moving forward. I've done everything I've needed to do to go through this coming season healthy."
In 35 games, Dangerfield averaged 9.5 points and 4.1 assists in 28,7 minutes. She ranked fourth in the AAC in assists, third in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7), and second in 3-point shooting percentage (44.9).
She was selected to the AAC and the NCAA Albany Regional all-tournament teams and had 21 points and six assists in the Elite Eight win over South Carolina. In the Final Four semifinal game against Notre Dame, she nailed a 3-pointer with 29 seconds left in overtime to tie the game. That shot, though, set the stage for Arike Ogunbowale's basket with one second left that sent the Irish to the championship game and the Huskies home.
In a way, it was Dangerfield's season in a nutshell.
"Frustration in a lot of different ways," Dangerfield said. "The way things ended, just frustration."
Upon returning from Columbus, Ohio, Dangerfield took about three weeks off to rest her legs. She's done work to loosen up her calves and strengthen her hamstrings. She said her quads had become bigger than her hamstrings and that's where the pressure came from. Massages, stretching, and icing is also part of her regiment.
She's feeling as good as she has for months.
"It's close to gone," Dangerfield said.
Dangerfield proved she could handle the point guard position at UConn Now she has to show she can help guide her team to a national championship.
The Huskies are 72-2 in her two years but both the losses cost them the chance to play for a title.
"When you have the ball in your hands a lot, that automatically means you have certain responsibilities that go with that," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Crystal is another one that likes to just go with the flow. There is a lot that her ability dictates that she can do, and I don't think she has done anything remotely close to what that ability is for a lot of reasons."
Where Auriemma is looking for Dangerfield to raise her game is at the defensive end. She has the quickness and athleticism to be a force.
UConn sent the last two WBCA Defensive Player of the Year winners - Kia Nurse (2018) and Gabby Williams (2017) - to the WNBA in the spring. Moriah Jefferson won the honor in 2016.
"There is a difference between being a really good defensive team and you yourself being a great defender," Auriemma said. "When you are a great defender you can lock people up, and you can be disruptive to the other team's entire offense like Moriah was. That is what we are going to need from Crystal."
Dangerfield did place 12th in the AAC in steals a season ago (1.7) and talked about being a lock-down defender like her former teammates and Jefferson were.
"Yeah I talked about going to law school when I got out of college and here I am coaching," Auriemma said. "I think there is a want to on her part. She wants to. Now she wants to and she has to. When those two things merge that is a lot of times when things happen. So I'm glad she is thinking it and I'm glad that she said it. Two out of three ain't bad."
The Huskies wrapped up their five-week summer session last Thursday and headed their separate ways. They'll return to campus in late August. Practice will start officially in October and the season opener is Nov. 11 when they host Ohio State.
They have some question marks. Dangerfield's position on the team is not one of them.
"I'm the point guard," Dangerfield said. "I have to be a leader. I have to be the one who runs things on the floor. I have to be an extension if Coach Auriemma out there and not let things get out of hand. My role will be what it was last year and more, making sure the pace of play is what we want it to be and wreaking havoc on defense. That will be the biggest thing for me. We graduated Kia and she was the best defensive guard we had. It's something I need to work on but I think I'm up for the challenge."