Connecticut is sitting at 16-1 (6-0) in the Big East. If you talk to UConn coach Geno Auriemma, you would think that his team would have trouble winning the intramural rec league at UConn. A little less than halfway through the season, everyone else is starting to perhaps see what Auriemma has been saying since November. This UConn team has some work to do if they are going to be hoisting a trophy in April.
Connecticut defeated Louisville 78-55 on Saturday afternoon. The game was ugly from the tip. It got even uglier when 1 minute into the game junior guard Tiffany Hayes collided with Maya Moore and suffered a mild concussion.
UConn perhaps a little shell shocked and a tad disoriented from having their 2nd leading scorer out of the game proceeded to act as if they were the ones that hit their head. UConn got out-rebounded, out-worked, out-played but led 31-26 at the half. The only reason was because they had Maya Moore and Bria Hartley on their team.
Hartley was dynamite at forcing tempo and keeping the team on pace. And for the first time this season was offensively aggressive to look for her shot when no one else was.Hartley finished with a career high 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Moore also carried much of the offensive load with 26 points but had a bout of questionable decisions that led to three first half fouls. She was forced to sit for the last 4:55 of the first half. UConn which led by 10 at the time saw their lead dwindle to 5.
Louisville which carries a roster of 16 players only went about 8 players deep with 10 players total seeing time. Freshman guard Shoni Schimmel came in with a pre-billing the size of the Hartford phone book. Schimmel who is Hartley’s only legitimate threat to Big East Freshman of the Year, delivered. She has a silky smooth shot that is without question. What perhaps needs to be questioned is the 20 shots that it took her to collect her 15 points, including 3-12 from 3 and her 7 turnovers. She did lead her team with 6 flashy assists.
UConn continued to do what they are known for in taking the other team’s leading scorer off of their game. Monique Reid who came in averaging 16.9 points was limited to 4 points on 1-11 shooting.
UConn was aided with being in the friendly confines of the XL Center, in front of a sellout of 16,294. That all changes today as UConn goes against the 11th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at 7PM on ESPN2.
The Tar Heels have only lost 1 game all season, a 1 point decision to Georgia Tech. The Huskies defeated the Yellow Jackets 71-51 earlier in the season. All of that aside UConn is ready for a battle.
The Tar Heels have not even been in the last 2 games with the Huskies losing last year 88-47 and the year prior 88-58. Both games sent UNC into downward spirals that sent them on losing streaks. This season, the Tar Heels seem to have righted the ship.
The Tar Heels who have lived by the notion that ‘speed kills’ is still a highly effective offensive team who has averaged 85.5 points per game. Their offense is started by a senior back court, including Cetera DeGraffenreid and Italee Lucas, which will not get rattled and can intimidate UConn’s inexperienced back court.
For Connecticut to be effective, Hartley is going to again play a major role. This isn’t lost on UConn’s coach Auriemma.
"Bria has the ability to impose herself on the game whenever she wants to," Auriemma said. "When she's being aggressive on the offense end she's able to make plays for herself and other people and she's looking to take advantage of scoring opportunities. I think she's starting to understand what her role is on this team and how consistent she has to be."
UConn should be with the services of Hayes who was cleared by UConn’s medical staff before their flight to Chapel Hill on Sunday. While Hayes and Hartley are key the most important player for UConn might be senior Lorin Dixon.
Dixon loves playing Carolina. There is something about the speed and pace of this game that allows the guard to use all of her best attributes to have her best floor games. The senior needs to offer a steady hand of leadership for UConn to have a chance.
UConn will be without second leading rebounder, Samarie Walker who has reportedly not traveled with the Huskies due to personal reasons.
This is a huge loss to the Huskies thin line up, particular because the Tar Heels have found their interior play this season, in part due to the return of Jessica Breland, but also a strong junior campaign by Chay Shegog.
UConn needs to solve their post woes, even without the services of Walker. "We're at the mercy of our post players," Auriemma said. "You wonder sometimes can they ever become consistent and give us something we need. We talked a lot about that the last couple of weeks. People who rebound well are not people who practice rebounding a lot. They are born a certain way and they have a nose for the ball. They are aggressive and they want the ball. So it's just been a struggle to get our big guys to be more consistent. But that's how we live right now. Thank goodness for Kelly [Faris], because she bails us out all the time on the defensive end."
Connecticut problems all tend to center around their lack of a dominant post. They are having a hard time rebounding from their post position, which makes their guards have to attack the boards. This has limited UConn's ability to get into a transition game that they have been known for. Auriemma, the king of magic and illusions is normally a master at motivation and masking the weaknesses of his teams. He seems to be at a lost as to what to expect from his freshman and in particular his post and is having a hard time masking this team's weaknesses.
UConn's toughest games this season have been on the road with post players who have clogged the lanes. The moment you make them put the ball on the floor, they struggle to keep within their offensive system and start throwing up 3 pointers and standing still.
UConn's leading rebounder, Moore, is also not as dominant of a rebounder as she has been in tyhe last 2 seasons. She is currently averaging 7.5 rebounds, the lowest of her career. This is something that the senior has taken notice to.
"It’s going to be physical,’’ Moore said. "On the road, Coach says it all the time. You have to rebound. If you don’t rebound on the road, you’re going to lose. So I think that’s the biggest thing we’re going to try to do when we go down there.’’
Rebounding is going to be the key to this game and the rest of this season. You can't score unless you can get the ball off the rim.