STORRS, Conn. - Crystal Dangerfield has fit seamlessly into the University of Connecticut women's basketball team lineup that includes a four-year starter and three All-Americans.
It hasn't been as easy as she has made it look. A lot of hard work went into earning her spot. So the Christmas holiday came at a perfect time for the Huskies' sophomore point guard. Not only did she deserve a break, she needed one.
From summer school to her time with USA Basketball's U-19 national team, to the Huskies' tour of Italy, to preseason and the start of the regular season, Dangerfield has been going non-stop. But following UConn's win over Duquesne on Dec. 22, she got to spend five days at home with her family in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
"I just wanted to clear my mind," Dangerfield said on Friday. "We break our season up into three parts (non-conference, conference, postseason). I was able to look at what the first part was like and what I can build on for the second season.
"All the minutes that I've been playing, the aches … Going home, I was able to let those aches go away."
Dangerfield and the top-ranked Huskies returned to the practice floor at the Werth Family Champions Center Thursday. On Sunday, they'll open the American Athletic Conference portion of their schedule when they take on Memphis at the XL Center in Hartford (SNY, 1:30 p.m.).
It was Dangerfield's strong performance in the summer and fall that gave her the inside track on the starting point guard spot and she's run with it since.
She enters Sunday averaging 12.2 points - one of six Huskies in double figures - while ranking second in the AAC in assists (5.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5), third in 3-point shooting percentage (51.0), and 10th in steals (1.7). The 2017 AAC all-freshman team pick believes she will be better with the calendar about to turn to 2018.
"I want to be able to take care of the ball better. I've had way too many turnovers," Dangerfield said, though it should be noted she's had more assists than turnovers in all but one game. "I want to figure out shot selection for everyone and myself so we're better in the flow of the game."
One number that deserves watching with her, though, is her minutes played. She ranks second on the team (32.9) only to senior guard Kia Nurse and played all 40 minutes of the wins over UCLA and Notre Dame.
If she plays another 40 Sunday, she'll be three minutes shy of half her total playing time for all of her rookie year.
"It's a major difference," Dangerfield said. "Your legs get tired and you feel like one of the old guys. But you look at what they've been doing for three, four years and you know you can't let it get to you, you can't let it affect you. When you come to practice you have to put yourself in positions where you're going to be tired. You may end up playing 40 minutes in the game so you can't let yourself get tired."
Fortunately for 19-year-old Dangerfield, she has "old guys" and fellow guards Nurse and junior All-American Katie Lou Samuelson looking out for her.
"Crystal needs to take it one day, one game, one practice at a time," Nurse said. "When you're playing as many minutes as she is at this point, and sometimes it's a bit of a transition, it's a matter of maintaining your endurance but also about taking care of your body so you can handle the physical toll you take.
"She plays such an important role for us that we have to keep an eye on each other. She keeps an eye on me and Lou and we help each other."
Of course, she has to deal with coach Geno Auriemma and no one has ever said it's easy being the Hall of Famer's point guard.
But whether it's during a break in the action or during a foul shot, she's always seeking out his guidance.
"It helps me going over to talk to him," Dangerfield said. "He tells me what he sees, and I tell him what I see that we can do to get an easy bucket or a stop on defense. It's not taxing. I love it. But sometimes in practice it can be a lot because you're constantly thinking about different things and he'll tell you one thing and I'll forget another thing. Talking to him is helpful."
Dangerfield didn't get to talk to Auriemma on Friday as he was under the weather and missed practice. He is expected to be back for Sunday.
UConn (10-0) has the nation's No. 1 RPI and No. 1 strength of schedule (according to www.rpiratings.com) as it begins league play Sunday. Three non-league games remain - at Texas on Jan. 15, at reigning national champion South Carolina on Feb. 1, and Louisville here on Feb. 12.
The Huskies have not lost in AAC play since the league was formed in 2013-14, 70-0 in regular season action and 12-0 in the conference tournament.
"I don't think anything changes for us," UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "We're starting our conference season and we approach it the same way. We have a lot of things that we have to work on and we'll do that starting Sunday.
"One of the reasons we've been able to sustain what we've done is respect everyone and approach everyone the same. We work on our things and we're prepared."
Memphis (5-8) won its opener, lost eight in a row, and has won its last four. Senior forward Cheyenne Creighton leads the Tigers in scoring and rebounding. It's the first of two regular season meetings between the schools. The Huskies will play at Memphis on Jan. 24.