UConn freshman Crystal Dangerfield helps deliver win over Baylor

— -- STORRS, Conn. -- Geno Auriemma might've felt like he had developed multiple personalities this season and his Connecticut Huskies hadn't even played their home opener yet.

The Huskies kept their massive winning streak alive but looked mortal in a two-point win at Florida State on Monday. So as the Huskies raised their latest championship banner high to the rafters of Gampel Pavilion on Thursday, Auriemma and likely the entire state of Connecticut were curious about this latest edition of UConn basketball.

After losing perhaps the greatest, if not the most decorated, "big three" that women's college basketball has ever seen in Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, UConn paid homage to championship No. 11 with perhaps more questions than it has banners entering a showdown with No. 2 Baylor.

"I'm really struggling with what the expectations should be for this team," Auriemma wondered aloud. "It has kind of been a real headache-inducing kind of thing for me because I can't figure out what should the expectations be. Should the expectations be, 'This is Connecticut basketball. Of course you should be in the Final Four and play in the national championship game.' And right after I think that, I think, 'You got to be out of your mind, why would you expect that from this particular group?' And then right after I say, 'Why are you disrespecting these guys?'

"(Then I think) are you going to be like everybody else and expect these guys to not miss a beat? So every day for me has been up and down, up and down, up and down."

Auriemma sounds as if he's got as many voices in his head as the tortured Gollum. But college basketball's Lord of the Rings might have his latest freshman gem in Crystal Dangerfield.

The 5-foot-5 Dangerfield might have been the smallest player on the court, but no one played bigger as the freshman scored 9 of her 19 points in the second half to lead UConn to a 72-61 victory over Baylor.

The third-ranked Huskies (2-0) extended their winning streak to 77 by breaking open a 54-54 tie with 7:27 remaining with a 16-2 run. The surge didn't just finish the Lady Bears (2-1), but it seemed to silence, for now, some of the questions about whether this Huskies team can carry on their elite tradition.

And Dangerfield did her best to calm some of Auriemma's doubts. The espnW HoopGurlz third-rated recruit in the country buried 8-of-14 shots, including 3-of-5 from behind the arc. She shot her jumper with confidence and spoke afterward the way she shot the ball.

She reminded reporters that she has played in big games for USA Basketball, won Tennessee state championships in high school and plenty of other big games in a prolific high school career that included a scoring record of 2,186 points at Blackman High School.

"A game like that didn't faze me," Dangerfield said after beating Baylor. "Big stage. Big game. I love games like this."

When UConn struggled in the first half and headed into the locker room at intermission looking vulnerable with a 32-29 lead, Dangerfield was one of the bright spots for the Huskies with 10 points.

Baylor, which returned four starters from a 36-2 squad the season before, began to flex its muscle in the paint with a 9-2 run to open the third quarter as Kalani Brown and Beatrice Mompremier set an aggressive tone early out of the break. Baylor, which was led by senior guard Alexis Jones' game-high 23 points, led 38-34 and the Gampel Gang grew quiet wondering if the Huskies were in trouble.

But Kia Nurse scored on a layup and Dangerfield drilled a jumper to tie the score at 38. A couple of minutes later, Dangerfield assisted Katie Lou Samuelson on a 3-pointer and Gabby Williams on a layup. Then she knocked down a 3 of her own and assisted on two more UConn baskets to give the Huskies a five-point lead heading into the fourth.

Baylor was within four midway through the fourth but Dangerfield responded with two steals as UConn picked up its defense. Dangerfield added a layup and then pretty much sealed the game with a jumper with 1:10 remaining to push the Huskies up 10.

With Baylor touting what some believe is the best recruiting class in the country with three top 40 recruits, including espnW HoopGurlz No. 1 recruit Lauren Cox and No. 8 prospect Natalie Chou, Dangerfield was the best freshman on the floor Thursday.

"I don't want to say she's as good as any point guard that we have ever had," Auriemma said. "That is saying too much too soon. But I think any other freshman in the country right now, she is as good a guard as there is in the country coming in."

Jefferson remains the measuring stick.

"The last time we saw Moriah, she was the best guard in the country," he said. "... Crystal coming in, out of high school, was a little further ahead than Moriah coming out of high school. ... Will she be further ahead three years from now? I just hope she catches up."

On the night UConn unfurled its latest banner which is so new that it still has creases in it, Auriemma unwrapped what could be his next great talent. Perhaps Dangerfield is the recruiting prize that comes from the first class to ever win four straight national championships led by a legendary trio that went 1, 2 and 3 in the WNBA Draft.

Who knows if Dangerfield will reach the heights that so many of the other stars have in this storied program.

One thing seems certain -- the freshman doesn't lack any confidence in her game. What did she show Auriemma on Thursday?

"I won't disappear in big games," Dangerfield said. "I just want to attack and be in those situations. I am not going to shy away from it. I feel like I have the experience to do it, so I'll be there.

"I know there are a lot of people that don't believe in us this year. We want to send a message every night we step on the floor."