Crystal Dangerfield watched from the stands as the UConn womenâ€™s basketball team won national championships in Nashville (2014), Tampa (2015), and Indianapolis (2016).
But with the chance to help the Huskies advance past the Final Four semifinals last March 31, all she could do was watch.
Dangerfield may have been UConnâ€™s best option in a tie game with Mississippi State.
With the opportunity to hold for the last shot of overtime, she may have been the best equipped to handle the ball as time ran down. Sheâ€™d then make her move to the basket and either kick the ball out for a shot or put up a floater in the lane to win it, with the worst-case scenario a second five-minute session.
But Dangerfield knew she did not play consistently well enough and did not put in the work necessary to deserve to be on the floor in that critical situation.
And all UConn fans know what happened next. A Saniya Chong turnover gave the Bulldogs possession and Morgan Williamâ€™s hoop at the buzzer ended UConnâ€™s 111-game winning streak and four-year reign as national champion.
The Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native is looking forward to the next challenge, but also looking back at last seasonâ€™s ending as motivation. The sophomore has been the most improved player in the Huskiesâ€™ camp with their opener against Stanford now less than three weeks away.
â€śHer attitude and her approach every day have been different from what they were last year,â€ť UConn junior Katie Lou Samuelson said. â€śSheâ€™s playing more freely like she did when we played together with USA Basketball three, four years ago. Sheâ€™s comfortable. Sheâ€™s so much better and she makes it so much easier for the rest of us by the way she leads. Itâ€™s been good for her.â€ť
So good that sheâ€™s put herself in position to join four-year starter Kia Nurse and All-Americans Samuelson, Napheesa Collier, and Gabby Williams in the starting lineup.
So good that coach Geno Auriemma was asked if she would start if the Stanford game were tomorrow.
â€śThatâ€™s a good question,â€ť Auriemma said. â€śWhat weâ€™re going to have to do is see what kind of look do we want to have on the floor. Depending on who we start, it changes a lot of things. Everyone we put in affects someone.
â€śBut Crystalâ€™s been really good. We talk all the time about how sheâ€™s able to do things she couldnâ€™t do last year in terms of getting through things, fighting through things. Her whole demeanor is better. Everything is better. She is the one whoâ€™s made the most significant changes from last year.â€ť
Dangerfield averaged 6.1 points and ranked ninth in the American Athletic Conference in assists at 3.7 and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.2. She was named to the leagueâ€™s all-freshman team.
But it was the second game of her career that had UConn fans believing and hoping that the next Moriah Jefferson had arrived. Dangerfield had 19 points and five assists in a win over Baylor at Gampel Pavilion on Nov. 17.
But she would not reach those heights again, though she did play very well in mid-February when she stepped into the lineup for the injured Nurse. Dangerfield would miss five games in January herself due to a foot injury.
After scoring 16 points in UConnâ€™s NCAA Tournament opener against Albany, she had just two points in each of the next three wins. Against Mississippi State she had one point, an assist, and two turnovers in 17 minutes. At the end, she was on the bench as the game was decided.
â€śYou donâ€™t want to keep (what happened last season) in the front of your head, but you donâ€™t want to ever forget it,â€ť Dangerfield said. â€śFreshman year was tough and I donâ€™t want that to happen again. So itâ€™s about making the little changes that turn into big changes on and off the court that will help me be better my sophomore year.
â€śOur end of the year conversation after last season really was me just being able to get outside myself and come into this year with a different mindset than I had. I had to understand what actually playing hard is by figuring out what Coachâ€™s definition of playing hard is.â€ť
She has taken Auriemmaâ€™s words to heart and her teammates have noticed.
â€śI love the confidence she has,â€ť Collier said.
â€śCrystalâ€™s done a great job,â€ť Nurse added. â€śShe has a better understanding of the offense and a better understanding of the reads. Sheâ€™s been making the right ones. Itâ€™s been really fun to play with her. Sheâ€™s high energy and thatâ€™s great for us to have.â€ť
UConn opens its exhibition schedule Nov. 1 against Division II Fort Hays State at the XL Center in Hartford, then plays reigning Division II champion Ashland at Gampel Pavilion on Nov. 5. The Stanford game is Nov. 12 in the Countdown to Columbus at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Williams: UConn or SC
Christyn Williams, rated the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2018 by ESPNHoopgurlz, announced Saturday she had narrowed her college list to UConn and South Carolina and will announce her decision on Nov. 10.
The 5-foot-11 guard from Little Rock, Arkansas, made an official visit to UConn Oct. 13-15, and had made an unofficial visit to Storrs in January of 2016. She eliminated Tennessee, Texas, and UCLA.
Williams averaged 26.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.4 steals as a junior in leading Central Arkansas Christian School to a 29-5 record. She was named Arkansasâ€™ Gatorade Player of the Year for the second straight season and was also a Naismith and MaxPreps All-America third-team selection.
This summer, Williams was the youngest player on the United States U-19 national team that traveled to Italy and took part in the FIBA U-19 World Cup. She played in six of seven games and averaged 3.2 points and 1.7 rebounds in 8.3 minutes off the bench.
Team USA - which included UConn sophomore Crystal Dangerfield and freshman Megan Walker - won the silver medal. She won a gold medal at the FIBA 3x3 U-18 World Cup in China.