Ahhh. Exhibition Season. It was the worst of times and then it got worse. After spending 2 weeks in Europe this summer without junior Caroline Doty who was recovering from a sprained knee on her three times repaired knee and making it through both exhibition games, I'm sure Connecticut Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma, is ready to stop running a MASH unit and ready to run some basketball practices. And if you talk to him, they need all the practice that they can get. Three days before the season there are still a lot more questions than answers after the final exhibition games.
There is not a lot that can be taken from an exhibition game in which your opponent has more turnovers than points. Or the game where you only have 6-7 players available that will most likely be in your regular rotation. But you play the games for a reason.
It's hard work going to practice each day. It's repetitive. You know each other so well that your teammate knows what you are going to do before you even think about doing it. It's nice to play against someone who doesn't know the conclusion before the first sentence is written. That drill that never works against the practice players is all of sudden open season on another opponent. That telegraphed entry pass that perhaps is never picked off is picked off and converted for 2. Games are glorious and like salvation. For a team whose season ended is disappointing fashion, a game is a chance to get some of your "happy back." Or in the case of UConn take your happiness away. But it wasn't all bad exactly.
- The UConn women have a PLAYER in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. That is 20 letters and a hyphen of all around skill and talent. She's not Maya. Yet. Right now she is scary good. Every single time she shoots the ball you think it is going in. Her defense is also surprising solid especially for a freshman.
- For all the criticism of Tiffany Hayes in the past, she does seem more focused and mature. On a team where well over half your team in freshmen and sophomores and your most vocal leader, Caroline Doty has been parked on the sideline more than in the game, they need a consistent calming presence on the floor. UConn's only senior should be this player. She has shown that her game has improved more in the last 6 months, than her previous 3 years in Storrs.
- Kiah Stokes still has this bright smile when talking to the media where she giggles like she doesn't belong there. She belongs. While her consistency in practice has been questioned by the coaching staff, other than Stefanie Dolson, she is the only post that has shown any significant growth. While Stokes has shown a nice touch around the basket averaging a respectable 8 points per game in the preseason, more impressive she has averaged 9.5 rebounds in 17 minutes of action per game. The post is where this team has some major questions and I think that Stokes might be the answer to some of these questions. Auriemma apparently agrees. "She has a lot of natural ability," Auriemma said. "Hopefully, she'll learn how to use it on a consistent basis. There are a lot of skills she has and one of the factors moving forward is to figure out a way to get her to use them on a regular basis."
- Caroline Doty is still day to day with an ankle injury after stepping on someone's foot in practice. She is expected to fully expected to participate in a full practice come Friday and be good to go for Holy Cross. And no one is perhaps happier than Bria Hartley. "You need a guard to bring it all together on the floor," said Auriemma. Bria [Hartley] is not that right now. Tiffany is not that. But Caroline is that."
- Brianna Banks might be one of the best defenders to come into UConn since Kelly Faris. Her balance and footwork is incredible. She never gets beat off the dribble and seems to be able to slide and switch direction faster than any UConn player in recent memory. All while under control. Oh and she just started shooting the ball since arriving in Storrs. The natural slasher is expanding her game.
- Kaleena suffered a non-serious calf injury sometime in the first half of the Assumption game and was only given 2 minutes in the 2nd half. Not only is that not fair to me that I only got to see that stroke for 2 minutes in the 2nd half, and not at all against Pace, it reminded you how fragile that line is. With Caroline Doty out at least 1 more week with an ankle injury UConn cannot afford to lose one more starting guard. While not initially diagnosed as serious it is nagging and that might be worse.
- Oh that one more injury to a starting guard, it happened. Banks twisted an ankle and had her wisdom teeth removed. While questionable going into the Pace game, she made her presence felt when she entered the game and showed that she is not to be forgotten in this freshman class. Geno Auriemma believes he is just one player removed for potentially being an average team. "We are one injury or one misfortune away from having a very average team," said Auriemma. "So everyone has to be very, very good, every night for us to have a good team. We are that close to being an average team."
- Heather Buck is the poster child for an enigma. Against teams she should dominate she again reverted back to her tentative ways. She will get a fierce rebound in traffic and fall down while trying to pass the ball out. She gets tied up for a jump ball more than any 6'5" player in the history of the game and doesn't even look towards the basketball when she has the ball in the post. I stand by the notion that that her redshirt freshman year after being diagnosed with Mono was perhaps the worst thing to happen to Buck, because again it's not physical ability.
- It is no secret on the types of teams that UConn struggled with last season. If you are physical and pound on them they regress. Taking ill advised jump shots and fading away. Against Pace their tallest post was maybe 5'11. After getting Dolson the first 3 touches of the game and easy scores, the Huskies in some ways forgot she was even on the floor instead shooting 21- 3's at 14%. The Assumption game saw them shooting 24 - 3's (With a healthy Mosqueda -Lewis). Auriemma currently believes that their best chance this season is as a jump shooting team, which I can't argue with when you have Doty, Mosqueda-Lewis, Hartley and Hayes on the floor. It's the days that shots are not falling that there might not be a lot of second options.
The Downright Ugly...
- It's tough finding a quality exhibition game. There isn't a Division II or III team out there that could refill UConn women's water bottles. There are no Seattle Pacifics on the women's side of the game to pull a colossal upset over the likes of an Arizona. The game just isn't developed enough. But the fact that 8 of Assumption's players had more turnovers than points is shooting yourself in the foot at mile 1 in a marathon. Assumption shot 27.1 % from the field, which isn't atrocious considering Division I, Howard University shot 19.6% and Sacred Heart only mustered their way to 21.6% last season against the Huskies. Against Pace, they held the Setters to 5 field goals, the same number that the Huskies help Assumption to. "A game like this just kind of makes you go, ‘Eh.' There was nothing worthwhile that came out of this game, to be honest with you."
- Seven months ago in a locker room in Indianapolis the 2010-2011 campaign ended in what any other team would kill for but UConn considered disastrous. So it's a little concerning that 4 days before the season opener that the UConn coaching staff is questioning your heart and desire to compete. It always okay if people question your talent and skill set, that can't always be changed but your passion should always be the constant. Perhaps it is a motivational tactic as UConn in the 2nd half of Pace did seem to have a renewed sense of focus after their coaches didn't even speak to them at the half besides questioning their heart.
It is easy to understand why this team will be much better come Sunday. They do look like that a completely different team with Kaleena on the floor and more so when Caroline Doty returns. Everyone can calm down and move back to their natural position. Mosqueda-Lewis has the ability to spread the floor and give Dolson the ability to work on the post. More so than Kaleena's physical presence was missing against Pace, it was the threat of her that makes her more deadly. Doty has the ability to get people in the right sports to be effective.
The truth of the matter is exhibition games are in a large part pointless. If you do something well, it's well ‘you are suppose to, it's a Division II team.' If you do something bad, it's well ‘the sky is falling and the season is a loss.' The best part of the last week for UConn is that it is over. The injuries are on the mend. Now all that is left is Division I opponents and championships on the line and plenty of questions to be answered.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions for our team this year," Auriemma said. "If those questions go unanswered it is going to be difficult for us to beat a great team. Great teams answer every question along the way. For us, if we answer those questions along the way, we have a chance to be a great team, If we don't, we don't have someone that can single handedly pull us through this."