The NCAA has rejected Evina Westbrook's transfer waiver, which means she won't play this college basketball season, provided UConn's appeal doesn't work. What does that mean for the Huskies?
It's definitely a downer for UConn, which is ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press preseason poll and was No. 3 in the espnW rankings. The Huskies lost their two leading scorers, forward Napheesa Collier (20.8 PPG) and guard Katie Lou Samuelson (18.5 PPG), from last season. Westbrook averaged 14.9 points and 5.3 assists last season for Tennessee as a sophomore. She would have been a very welcome presence in UConn's offense this season.
At 6 feet, Westbrook is a scoring point guard with good size and strength. She distributes the ball effectively, with good court vision, but Westbrook also takes up a lot of defensive attention with her scoring ability.
She isn't a superb 3-point shooter -- she was 38 of 100 from beyond the arc last season -- but she's serviceable there. Plus, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said recently he didn't want his team (or women's basketball in general) to be as reliant on 3-pointers. He wants his Huskies to get to the rim and draw fouls, and Westbrook would have fit in well with that mindset.
She is the type of player who can break down defenses by penetrating and dishing off, or by scoring at the rim. Last season, she was 93 of 129 at the free throw line, making more trips there than any of the returning Huskies.
So much of UConn's success has been about how well Auriemma and his staff teach players to create and react to open spaces, to get the best shots by understanding how to move individually and as a unit. Westbrook should be able to thrive in that system, and also help the players around her be at their best.
She would have provided the Huskies with another strong ball handler to complement 5-5 senior Crystal Dangerfield, who is a different type of point guard. Dangerfield had offseason hip surgery, and it would have been beneficial to her to have Westbrook as another guard who is so capable of running the offense. Now, unless the appeal is successful, those two won't get to play together.
Westbrook also would mesh well in tandem with quick sophomore guard Christyn Williams. We saw flashes of brilliance from Williams last season, and one can expect she'll be even more consistent in 2019-20. Now, there's more on Dangerfield's and Williams' shoulders in regard to scoring, and the same goes for 6-1 junior Megan Walker and fellow forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a 6-5 sophomore.
Defensively, the Huskies would have benefited from Westbook's presence. Like most young players, she had to learn to defend without fouling, but she made progress on that while at Tennessee. She led the Lady Vols in steals last season (49), and her size again would have come in handy for UConn with slowing down other teams on the perimeter.
And there's also Westbrook's big-game experience, and the fact that she played in an extremely athletic league like the SEC the past two seasons. Collier and Samuelson were thrust into leadership positions as sophomores. And while it took them a while to grow into those roles, by their senior seasons they were players that could always be counted on. They will be missed.
UConn has three seniors and two redshirt seniors this season, but only one of them -- Dangerfield -- has had significant playing experience as a starter for the Huskies. Westbrook is new to UConn, but she's not new to being on the floor for a lot of time -- she averaged 30.7 minutes last season and 28.1 as a freshman -- and in the most key moments. She started all 64 games she played at Tennessee.
Ultimately, UConn still has a lot of talent, and the Huskies' ownership of the American Athletic Conference in their last season in the league seems assured. They also play most of their highest-profile nonconference games at home this season -- either at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs or the XL Center in Hartford. That includes their games against Notre Dame, Baylor, Tennessee and Oregon.
UConn will still be a force to be reckoned with. But Westbrook would have given the Huskies one more very valuable and versatile weapon, a player they really could have used, especially in a season after losing two high-impact players like Collier and Samuelson.