STORRS, Conn, - Statistically speaking, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team usually dominates the league leaders in most categories.
One place where the Huskies are usually not found, however, is in minutes played. But a season ago, UConn's usual starting five averaged between 29.3 minutes (Gabby Williams) and 32.1 minutes (Katie Lou Samuelson) per game. Top reserve Crystal Dangerfield averaged 24.0 minutes per contest. After that, particularly during the postseason, UConn coach Geno Auriemma went to his reserves reluctantly. His staff - associate head coach Chris Dailey, assistants Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley, and graduate assistant Chloe Pavlech - was out of eligibility.
"Sometimes last season our best option was sitting on the bench next to me, either Shea or Marisa, and there were times I thought CD would do a better job than some of the guys we had on the bench," Auriemma said.
But with transfers Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara eligible and four freshmen in the fold, Auriemma has more to work with it.
The Huskies open their preseason schedule Wednesday night when they take on Division II Fort Hays State in an exhibition game at the XL Center in Hartford.
"The biggest thing going in is that we do have some options," Auriemma said. "How much they contribute, I don't know. Right now I'm going in based on their past performances. We have four players that are great at what they do. Crystal played a lot. Azura played a lot and has had great success in college at Duke for two years. Batouly played a little bit in college. A couple of the other guys maybe got better. One of the freshmen, two of the freshmen ... There are a lot of possibilities."
One option Auriemma will not have Wednesday night is Camara, as the redshirt sophomore forward will sit out with a knee injury.
UConn does return four of its starters and Dangerfield continues to receive rave reviews for her play. Of the 13 players on the Huskies' roster, six are newcomers.
"We do have a lot of new people so we're trying to get them on board with where we're at, especially the freshmen," UConn All-American Napheesa Collier said. "Azura and Batouly had last year to adjust a bit. Everyone's working hard and we're trying to keep that up."
For freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Lexi Gordon, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, and Megan Walker, it will be their first time in front of the home crowd.
"There's the same time line for every freshman every year," Auriemma said. "We find ourselves sitting in our office saying the same things every year and what a struggle it is for freshmen to come in here and get caught up on things. You either have to have some kind of tremendous skill that is just overwhelming or a certain mindset that separates you from everyone else. So when you look at freshmen that played in the past, they had that.
"These guys all have something that helps them. Right now they're not up to speed from a competitive standpoint of what it means to play here. Right now they're a little uncomfortable with the competitiveness that goes on here."
The exhibition games should help that process along.
Another difference this season for the Huskies is with their depth they'll have an option of using more full-court pressure.
"We've talked a lot about having a certain aggressive mentality and trying to create a lot of stuff off our defense like we have," Auriemma said. "We're a little bit older and I think a little bit smarter as a team. Maybe we can do some things that we haven't done in the past. I just think that's the natural progression for some of these guys. There's a certain aggressiveness that we have to have.
"We know what's in store for us. We know what kind of schedule we have. We know who we're playing. It's going to have to be like that."
Fort Hays State returns six key players, including three sophomores, from its 22-8 season of a year ago. The Tigers have a pair of all-league performers in juniors Tatyana Legette and Carly Heim. Emma Stroyan, their only senior, was a starter at Central Connecticut State two years ago before transferring to Fort Hays State prior to the 2016-17 season.
The Tigers will play their second and final exhibition game next Monday at Kansas State. Fort Hays State sophomore Madison Mittie is the daughter of Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie.
UConn will wrap up its preseason slate Sunday against reigning Division II champion Ashland at Gampel Pavilion. Ashland, which lost an exhibition to Ohio State 110-80 last Sunday, was voted No. 1 in the WBCA Division II coaches poll released Tuesday. The Huskies' regular season opener is Nov. 12 against Stanford at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.