Maryland’s heavy weight bout with the reigning champion UConn Huskies takes place tonight at Madison Square Garden. The two top five programs will be facing off in the Maggie Dixon Classic. Let’s take a look at how these two teams matchup, it goes deeper than the stars.
Let’s start with the guards, it’ll be imperative that this group is able to seize and dictate the tempo of the game.
Moriah Jefferson is one of the better floor generals in the country. Chloe Pavlech and Brene Moseley will have to limit her impact on the game. Moseley may be better suited for dealing with the uber quick point guard. Both teams have good size on the wings, but it’s the tiny guards that have the ability to break down the defense and create for teammates. The difference is that Jefferson starts at point guard while Moseley comes off the bench. Maybe Frese will change it up, or it means Pavlech may be on a short leash if she has trouble with Jefferson early on.
Maryland has Kiara Leslie, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Kiah Gillespie, and Kristen Confroy on the wings. All of which are versatile enough to defend guards and forwards. As for Uconn, they have size outside of Jefferson as well. Katie Lou Samuelson, Kia Nurse, Courtney Elmark, and Gabby Williams. Gillespie and Samuelson have that unique size on the wing at 6’3 and 6’2 respectively where they can play both inside and outside.
The matchup down in the paint will be fun for several reasons, there’s different types of bigs on both sides. Brionna Jones is a back-to-the-basket type that wreaks havoc on opposing teams. Malina Howard can step out and hit the 18 footer and occasionally beyond, but it’s not a strength at this point. Freshman Brianna Fraser is a lanky 6’3 big that can run and jump, she can step out and hit a three, but it’s not her thing. She’s more of an energy player with great hands around the basket and has a very quick leap. Tierny Pfirman is Maryland’s true stretch four, she’s able to bang in the paint a bit, but her strength is her ability to shoot the basketball from anywhere on the floor.
As for Uconn, Morgan Tuck is a handful. She’s shown an ability to step out and consistently hit the long ball and do damage on the block. Natalie Butler hasn’t played yet this season, but there’s a possibility that she may make her debut tonight against Maryland. She’s a 6’5 center which is really the only traditional big that the Huskies have, then there’s the walking mismatch in Breanna Stewart. Stewie is averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds a game this season, I had the opportunity to watch her in the US womens National Team training camp before the World Championships. She not only proved that she belonged in a gym with some of the WNBA’s best, but she was one of their peers. The 6’4 forward will cause trouble for the Terps, coming off a sprained ankle it’ll also be interesting to see how long it takes her to get going.
Here are the X-factors in this game for Maryland: Kiarra Leslie and Kiah Gillespie
Leslie is a well rounded wing that has the ability to attack the basket off the bounce or hit the outside shot. She’s also a capable and willing defender, to swing this thing Maryland’s way, the versatile wing has to be in attack mode all game long. The Terps can’t afford for her to fall back and let things come to her, she must be the aggressor from opening tip. The last thing the Terps need is for nobody to step up and help SWK early on the offensive end.
As for Gillespie, she’s a very special player. It has shown in flashes in the first 11 games, but she has the type of talent to be one of the best in the country as she refines her game. Against Uconn, her perimeter skills can help neutralize the Huskies pressure. Having her handle the ball will keep the Terps point guards from getting trapped and forced into turnovers. Like Leslie, Kiah needs to be a hunter against Connecticut. She has to hunt for her shot and be confident for all four quarters. She may also turn out to be the best option as a primary defender on either Tuck or Stewie.