The day started with the formal unveiling of the Championship banner from last season. It was a glimpse at the past, seen by the present and future.
The defending champion UConn Huskies, to the surprise of no one, kicked off their season with a thumping of Holy Cross on Sunday afternoon before 7,153 at Gampel Pavilion. While the outcome wasn't a shocker, there were a couple of surprises. First, the starting five consisted of all upper classmen. After toying in the preseason with starting freshmen Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, and/or Samarie Walker, Geno Auriemma said he decided in practice on Saturday the freshmen looked nervous and he's start the more experienced players. Second, the margin of victory, 80 points (117-37) was a surprise.
So perhaps it's only fitting that the "forgotten star" of the team, Tiffany Hayes, was the difference maker, scoring a school record 30 first half points. With all the talk surrounding Maya Moore (rightfully so), the loss of stars via graduation or injury, and the questions surrounding the freshmen class (also rightfully so), it's easy to overlook the soft-spoken Hayes when you start discussing the Huskies.
Yesterday though, Hayes presented the evidence as to why ESPN rated her the #1 shooting guard in the country. She hit the first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, and didn't let up. She finished the game with 32 points, on 12-16 shooting and an impressive 4-7 from the 3-point line. Perhaps, more exciting for Coach Geno Auriemma however, was the 5 rebounds she added. On Friday, he had emphasized to the press that Hayes needed to do more than score, she needed to rebound, and it woud be crucial to the team's success.
All of the Husky guards were tough on the glass; In addition to Hayes, Kelly Faris added 9 rebounds in almost producing a triple double (15 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) and even Lorin Dixon, the smallest player of the team had 6 rebounds. The posts will have to get it going though, as it can't be considered a good sign, as Auriemma pointed out postgame, when your centers are outrebounded by your guards.
Maya Moore continued to show why she's the number one player in the country. She worked on getting Hayes and everyone else started in the first half, ending with 7 points, but by the end of the game, it was a typical Maya Moore box: 21 points, 8-13 shooting, 6 rebounds, 7 assists. And one over the head underhand scoop shot that was worthy of Sportscenter's Top 10 for the night.
Holy Cross was led by shooting guard Alex Smith, who scored 12 points, all from three point range. The Crusaders played a solid first half; they scored 30 of their points in that half, and competed hard throughout. The second half, the young team disappointed even Coach Bill Gibbons who said he felt they stopped competing, scoring only 7 second half points.
So what does UConn take from a win like this before their big game vs. Baylor? Not much, except for more experience playing together. All 10 players scored, and 7 of them committed their first fouls. They got the first whacks and the first nerves out of their system in the friendly confines of Gampel Pavilion. Baylor will be a different team, with a different game. Auriemma commented he wasn't even sure what he would be able to take from Tuesday's game, as except for in the NCAA tournament, his Huskies wouldn't face another team with a center like Brittney Griner all season. Win or lose, as Moore said, it's back to practice on Wednesday, with the goal the same....cutting down the nets in April.