Gabby Williams is aware nothing will be easy for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team Thursday night.
The second-ranked Huskies open their difficult December schedule against No. 15 DePaul at Gampel Pavilion (SNY, 7 p.m.). While UConn has dominated the series with the Blue Demons, having won 13 consecutive meetings since 2006 when they played as members of the Big East, a number of the games the past decade have been closer than the final scores would indicate.
Take their 2015 matchup in Chicago, for example. UConn saw a double-figure lead cut to five in the fourth quarter. It took a 3-pointer by Katie Lou Samuelson to spark a late surge that resulted in an 86-70 win.
"I definitely remember the game from last year," Williams said. "We go back to that game a lot because it was kind of crazy. It's a team that can easily get you out of your element. It will be the perfect test for us to see if we can still stay calm and still get the things we want to do done. It's going to be tough but I think we need that now."
Toughness seems to be the word of the day for the Huskies following their 80-43 victory over Chattanooga Tuesday night at the XL Center in Hartford.
While UConn did run its winning streak to 80, coach Geno Auriemma wasn't happy with how it all played out. It's all about winning in March and April. But during the non-league portion of the schedule, it's about working to get into a mode that will be a winner in March and April.
"I don't think that it's necessarily complacency," Auriemma said. "We've played a couple good teams, and we've played in some really good games. I just think that at certain times you're going to be faced with winning either one of two ways, and sometimes you get both. One is you win because you have tremendous talent. You just overwhelm every team you play with the talent you put on the floor, and believe me, I have coached a bunch of those teams. The other is that you are just a really hard-nosed tough team that you just don't back down to anything, ever, under any circumstances. And when you have both, you have six undefeated seasons like we have.
"Well, this team isn't like that. We gave up like eight layups in the first five minutes of the game. So we are not like that. And yet, we don't have that kind of talent that just blows you away like we've had in the past. So that means that every single minute of every day, every practice, every game, they have got to be tough and hard-nosed. And I mean really tough. That's hard to do. I think today's kids, that's just the way they are."
Can the Huskies get tough by the time the postseason comes around?
"You can," Auriemma said. "How do you acquire it? Lots of times it just comes from inside and you just have it and it just needs to come out. Or somebody needs to whack you and then you find out if you have it.
"All they know is, 'When's the game? There's food after. Then we go back to our dorms or our apartments. We're living large. When's the parade?' They don't know any different. They live in a fantasy world. After awhile, you've got to face reality."
Auriemma recalled Breanna Stewart's freshman season of four years ago.
The Huskies lost by one point, two points, and in three overtimes to Notre Dame and fell by six to Baylor. But come NCAA tournament time, they handed five of their six opponents - including the Irish - their worst loss of the season en route to the national championship.
"They got tougher in December, January and February," Auriemma said. "By the time we got to March, those guys were tough because they got their butts kicked along the way and they didn't like it. They didn't like it, and it changed who they were.
"Then they got a little bit, 'Hey, yeah, we're great.' Then we went out to Stanford and got beat."
UConn is 127-1 in its last 128 games with the only loss being in overtime at Maples Pavilion on Nov. 17, 2014.
To no one's surprise, the players had their coach's back.
"I don't think we are being tough enough," UConn forward Napheesa Collier said. "Hopefully it doesn't take a loss to wake us up. But I agree that we are not being as tough as we should be."
That will need to change Thursday night.
While UConn (5-0) likes to play fast, DePaul (5-1) plays even faster. The Blue Demons take almost 49.8 percent of their shots from 3-point land and are connecting on 38.6 percent of them. They are also second nationally in assists.
Auriemma called DePaul - coached by veteran Doug Bruno - unpredictable. How so? The Blue Demons lost to Baylor by 32 last Saturday at the Gulf Coast Showcase and bounced back to beat 2016 national finalist Syracuse by 24 the next day.
"They're going to try to score a lot of points," Auriemma said. "They're going to have a bunch of tough kids that play hard.
"Last year at their place when they subbed like a hockey team, that was the first time they did that ever. So you couldn't even prepare for that. They just pulled it out of nowhere. I asked Doug if he was going to keep doing that and told him he should. He was like, 'Nah, I just wanted to do it today.' He could come up with anything Thursday."
Senior guard Jessica January leads DePaul is scoring (18.5), assists (7.0), and steals (3.2), while ranking second in rebounds (6.0).
Collier is coming off a 23-point performance that saw her hit 11 straight shots after missing her first. Samuelson added 19 points while Williams recorded her second consecutive double-double, the third time in her career the junior has done it.
She has never had three in a row.
Freshman point guard Crystal Dangerfield missed Tuesday night's game with a concussion. SNY's Justine Ward reported Wednesday that Dangerfield is questionable for Thursday and participated in a non-contact practice Wednesday.
Thursday night's game is also the second half of Reunion Week for Auriemma.
Tuesday night it was Chattanooga coach Jim Foster, who gave Auriemma his first college coaching job at Saint Joseph's of Philadelphia in 1978.
DePaul's Bruno was Auriemma's assistant on the United States national team that won gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 FIBA world championships and at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
"I love how competitive Doug is," Auriemma said. "And he might be the most positive guy I've been around. Like if he coached our team, we would be really good."
With ranked foes DePaul, Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Maryland on the Huskies' docket this month, they'll find out how good they are on their own soon.