THE UCONN WOMEN AND THE NUMBERS GAME
“You almost become more demanding in certain areas”, said UCONN women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma after last night’s XL Center win over Central Florida that upped the top ranked Huskies record to 27-0.
Limited numbers have forced Geno to make adjustments in his coaching style. With junior All American Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis out with mononucleosis they’ll play the final four games of the regular season and, in all likelihood, the AAC tournament games, with just seven scholarship players. They’ve dealt with limited numbers several times this season, even beaten nationally ranked opponents on the road with as few as six players, but, even for Geno, in his 29th season at UCONN, with eight national championships, it’s been a learning experience.
“If we had four or five post players and Stefanie fouled”, he said of senior center Stefanie Dolson, who drew three early fouls last night, “You’d just sit her on the bench and teach her a lesson, but you can’t do that, so you have to be even smarter and more precise than if you had 12 players.”
The players feel most of the adjustments have to be made at the coaching end. “I think we just go out there and we’re playing, running offense, playing defense the way the coaches teach us every day”, said guard Bria Hartley, who last night joined Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore as the only players in program history with 1500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists, “It’s not many adjustments for us, maybe for coach, with subbing and things like that, adjustments that he has to make, but for us, we just go out there and play basketball.”
For the players, being able to play more minutes, with fewer bodies to eat up those minutes, is almost a luxury, they get to learn from their mistakes. “Saniya took a ridiculous jump shot about 32 seconds into the game, then she goes down court and fouls”, Auriemma said of freshman guard Saniya Chong. “In normal situations you’d just go, ‘Get her out of there.’ Now they have to learn, they have to be smarter and they have to make better decisions.”
Chong was a quick study, turning her game around last night to finish with 17 points and 10 rebounds, saying she won’t have any trouble adjusting to minutes she didn’t expect she’d get as a freshman, “If i just work hard and come out playing like I did tonight. It’s just a matter of going out there and being part of the game.”
While Chong admits she does feel the pressure of knowing she’s in for more playing time, she says, “It just makes me better and makes me work harder, knowing that my team needs me.”
Much of the burden for picking up the numbers slack will fall on sophomore All American forward Breanna Stewart, and she agrees with coach, it’s about being more demanding. “You just have to be smarter mentally and physically”, said Stewart after last night’s game, “Mentally you take risks but you don’t want to try and do too much, where you might get called for a foul because we can’t really afford to get into foul trouble. Physically it’s just knowing when to push the tempo and when to really set up the offense.”
Stewart isn’t worried about the extra minutes, or the new pressure that’s certain to come from opponents, wearing the Huskies out. “The coaches do a good job of getting us prepared for each game”, she said, “Then making sure we’re recovered and rested for the next game.”
“In some ways you’re kind of more demanding”, Geno repeated himself, “But about certain things, not everything. My days of demanding everything be done exactly the way I want it done are long gone.”
It’s not all about numbers. More accurately, it’s about how you use the numbers you have. So far no one’s been able to find a solution for the way the UCONN women use theirs.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.