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UConn Women Get Ready to Battle Duke Without Its Swagger

UConn misses the edge that Caroline Doty brings to the game.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
UConn misses the edge that Caroline Doty brings to the game. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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When the 2nd ranked Connecticut Huskies (20-1) squares off with 3rd ranked Duke Blue Devils (20-0), tonight at 7:00 PM (ESPN 2), UConn will be without the services of Caroline Doty. It’s nothing new as they have been without her all season, with a torn ACL, but there are times when that loss is felt more than others. Monday night might be one of those times.

Doty the dynamic point guard aficionado is a proficient ball handler, defender, and shooter. All of those things are sorely missed but what is pined for more than all of those things is the redshirt junior’s attitude and moxie.  After all, this is the player who less than half a semester into her freshman year was voted by her Connecticut classmates in the UConn newspaper as having the most "swagger" on campus.

Points, rebounds, assists, play making ability can be distributed to other players and masked. Mindset and attitude is unfortunately not as transferable. And the Doty moxie is needed more than her 6.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists per game.

 

 

If you look at UConn roster it is filled with a bunch of nice kids who at times shy away from the grimier parts of basketball. They don’t have a lot of players who will mix it up. The gritty part of basketball is where the 5-10 guard excelled. UConn coach Geno Auriemma noticed it earlier in the season when he was quoted as saying, "We’re not the biggest team in the world, that’s the problem. We’re not big. And we’re not as physically imposing as we’ve been all of these last 10 to 15 years." He added, "I think this team would no question challenge you at the mall to see who could get a scarf first. I don’t know if they’d want to meet you in a back alley. I think they’re more, ‘Who can get into the salon chair before the other one can.’ I’ve not seen that side of them yet, but it may come.’’  That was before the loss of freshman Samarie Walker who transferred to Kentucky last week. Now they are a little thinner but perhaps a bit wiser. Judicious and edgy is what they will have to be in order to compete with the only undefeated team left in Division I.

Duke is one of the more physical teams that UConn will face. They have dynamic young players but a solid group of experience in Jasmine Thomas, Karima Christmas, Krystal Thomas, Shay Selby, and Kathleen Scheer.

"Duke is the type of team that will run 11 or 12 people at you for 40 minutes and try to wear you down," senior Lorin Dixon said. "They are one of the most physical teams that I have ever played. Going into tomorrow we have to be strong. We have to accept that there is going to pressure and it’s going to be a tough game for 40 minutes. They can only play 5 people at a time and so can we. We have to come in and play strong and hard."

While Duke can afford to be physical with all 11 players seeing significant minutes, UConn has to be more astute in physicality because they can’t afford to have their key players sit, for foul trouble, as Dixon is the only player that will log significant minutes for UConn off the bench.

While UConn is managing their shortened bench they have developed a new mindset. That of the role as the underdog. "We have been talking about it," Tiffany Hayes said. "We are kind of the underdogs in this situation even though we are ranked higher. We are going to give the crowd a good game, and hopefully we come out on top."

This is from a kid along with Doty has only lost 1 game in her college career. While authentic or not coach Auriemma is okay with that outlook. "It’s not often that we go into any game as the underdog," Auriemma said. "The perception that we have Maya Moore which should make us the favorite in every game that we play is probably misleading. But I think given the circumstances of where we are personnel wise, if [my players] want to feel that way, that’s fine. I can live with that."

While UConn might be undermanned when compared to a very talented and deep Duke team they are still UConn and will compete. The first place they need to battle is on the boards.The key to UConn success all season has been rebounding the basketball. UConn won last season 81-48 over Duke, but was outrebounded 35-31, allowing Duke 17- 2nd chance points. And that was with Tina Charles and Kalana Greene roaming the lane. Now it is up to freshman Stefanie Dolson and senior Maya Moore to try to keep Duke in check.

This year’s Duke’s team is only shooting 41.1%. However they are averaging 17.6 offensive rebounds giving them more opportunities to score. UConn must box out from all positions because everyone player on Duke’s roster average at least 1 rebound per game. Rebounding is not lost on the Huskies.

"That’s going to be very important," Dixon said. "All their guards and everybody on Duke rebounds. Even my little self is going to have to get in there and box out to help Stef and Maya. Even last year, that is something that they killed us on. We have to come out [today] ready for and prepared that everyone has to go out and rebound."

While Doty would probably not have made a huge impact on the boards, where she will be missed sorely is outside the arc and having an extra ball handler. Duke likes to press and pack it into the lane. Having an experienced player to knock down an open shot or handle the ball on the press is longed for.

Most of the ball handling and shooting responsibility is going to fall on freshman point guard Bria Hartley. She’s looking forward to this match up as she squares off with good friend Chelsea Gray.

"Duke is a really good team and run a lot of good stuff," Hartley said. "It’s going to be a battle as to who works harder throughout the game." "We need to stick with our offense and react to what the defense gives us. If it’s open on the inside we’ll hit the inside lane. If they collapse it will open up some 3 point shots."

That’s a sentiment echoed by Dixon. "Inside-Outside has to be our mindset," Dixon said. "Outside shooting is going to be huge. Our 3 point shooters, Bria, Tiffany, Maya, and Kelly [Faris] have to hit shots. We have to get it into the lane on some penetration. We have to be balanced. We can’t just shoot 3’s. We need to make it hard to guard us."

While she is not able to provide any outside shooting for the Huskies on the court this year, Caroline Doty has offered plenty of advice and guidance to her teammates.

"I can’t do anything physical for them," Doty said. "It’s all about my words to try and get through to them and do the best I can through my words. You want to help out but you can’t, like there’s a wall there. I hope what I say gets through to them, and I’ll cheer for them and be as active as I can on the sidelines. But I’m not going to dwell on it. I’m not going to be upset about it. I’m going to be there for our team."

While she is not physically there for her team right now, she is working hard to get back to form for next year. Rehab is a grueling process that no one should have to go through. But she seems to have the right mindset and approach.

"Right now I feel great," Doty said. "I started running two weeks ago so I’m trying to get my wind and my form back and making sure that all the dynamics are right. I’m hoping to do a majority of the postseason workouts with them. August will be a year, so I should be feeling 100 percent. I’m going to train and be in the gym and do what I have to do to be ready for next year."

Doty still has a huge role to play this year and that includes #1 cheerleader, peptalker, and hype master.

"Even though she is not playing, when she is on the bench, [Caroline] is the same person," said Dixon. "She gets you hyped and pumped. You get on the floor and are ready to take down anyone after talking to Caroline. Her personality transfers off the court or on the court. Even though she is not playing, she still is an emotional leader for us. It helps us and puts us in a position ready to battle. We are definitely going to come out with that type of emotion and energy for Duke [that she would bring]. It’s a great game. We are definitely going to come out with that fire in our belly."

They are going to need fire, edge and a Doty-type attitude to bring down the Blue Devils tonight.


Notes

 - UConn might have seen its 90 game win streak end at Stanford, the Huskies have won an NCAA record 72 consecutive games at home. It doesn’t bode well that Duke is coming to town. Duke ended UConn’s previous record of 69 games at home in 2004 69-68.

 

 - The series against Duke is at 4-3, with UConn winning the last 2 meetings in blowout fashion. -UConn has been outrebounded twice this season, by Georgia Tech 40-38  and Stanford 43-36. Notre Dame tied UConn with 43 rebounds. Duke out-rebounded Tech 45-32, this season.

 

Players to Watch

UConn - Bria Hartley (Freshman Guard): Duke is going to pressure and be aggressive. Bria must limit turnovers and get the Huskies into their offense against a solid, hardnosed defensive squad. She also needs to knock down open shots with some consistency. She has been nursing a sore foot but she is going to have to be at 100% if Connecticut wants a shot.

Duke – Jasmine Thomas (Senior Guard): This is Dukes only player averaging in double figures at 15.1 points. The only way to describe her is ‘Clutch with a Killer Mindset’. If you allow her to win the game against you, you will lose every time. UConn must keep the ball out of her hands and Duke must try to always get her the ball and let her decide what to do.

The Refs – How this game is called will determine on how successful each team will be. Duke wants to play physical and has the bodies to do it if the game is called tight. UConn can’t afford anyone to have to sit with foul trouble. While UConn struggles when teams knock them around, they would probably prefer to have the refs swallow their whistles and let them play.