"It's pretty much entering the real world, some of these guys have been living in fantasy land and that doesn't last forever, you know?"
And so Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies enter the real world tonight, in their return to the court for their first game not ranked number in the country in basically a year. The quote above from Geno Auriemma at the end of UConn's practice yesterday afternoon at Gampel Pavilion seemed to sum up the thoughts of not only Auriemma, but also his players, and even the writers in attendance. There was no self pity, no streak talk, just some questions about "what does the team take from being defeated by Stanford," and "what comes next." The answer to the "Next" question, is Geno's long time friend Harry Perretta and his Villanova Wildcats.
Now some of you, like I did, may think this is more of a rivalry than it really is. Other than the fact Villanova broke UConn's 70 game winning streak in winning the 03-04 Big East title, it hasn't really been close. Villanova won the first 14 games of the series...and has gone 33-3 vs. Connecticut since. Villanova has not scored more than 60 points in a game vs. UConn since 1998, and hasn't scored 50 since 2005.
Take those numbers, add in that this year's Villanova team is 7-6, and has reached 60 only 3 times, and the fact UConn is looking to take back their swagger after the Stanford game and this shapes up to be what could be a pretty ugly game. Then to just to top it off, yesterday in the portion of practice the writers were allowed to see, UConn spent a solid hour working on one thing....DEFENSE.
For the first time in almost a year, UConn is not number one, but that didn't really seem to faze Auriemma. "I never brought it up when we were number one, that never entered my mind, and it never entered my mind to say we're not," he said, "I'm sure it's great for Baylor; I'm sure those kids are probably thrilled to death, it's quite a rush, quite a thrill when it first happens to you and you get to feel that feeling, but I think the way it's been around here... you appreciate it, you enjoy it, but it's always there."
The Huskies, for their part, will focus on correcting what didn't go right vs. Stanford. Maya Moore will look to make the big shots, play both ends of the court, and be more patient, letting the game come to her and not forcing things. Tiffany Hayes will try to become the consistent scorer the team needs her to be, and Bria Hartley will try to be the reliable scoring option while growing as the floor leader as a freshman. One thing was clear though; the major flaw in the UConn roster that was exposed during the Stanford game, the hole created by the injury of Caroline Doty, isn't going away. "I look over sometimes (at Hartley) and she's dying physically, or she's dying mentally," Auriemma told reporters, "and I just look at Caroline and say ‘hey don't blame me, there's your sub.' Until she gets back, it's on you."
Villanova, as always, will force their opponent to pay patient, as they methodically work the shot clock, and shoot a lot of three pointers. They have taken 344 3-pointers this year, an average of 26 per game, and are connecting on just over 35%. Junior Lindsay Kimmel and Sophomore Laura Sweeney are their leading scorers at 11.2 and 10.4 ppg respectively, with Kimmel accounting for 98 of the team's three point attempts herself. It's a very young Villanova team, with only two seniors on the roster, and they are going through the growing pains you would expect with that kind of inexperience.
So, it's pretty safe to say that the result of the game is not really the question here, but how Connecticut rebounds from their performance against Stanford, while preparing for a difficult stretch beginning Saturday at Notre Dame, followed by a late night game in Madison Square Garden vs. St. John's. Auriemma confirmed that it's about what they do going forward now, and they need to realize what makes the team successful. "The real world is you win, you lose, you win, you lose, that's why they have that saying ‘you win some, you lose some.' I think that's the world they just entered now, and how long will they stay in that world? Probably a long, long time. We can treat this loss like an aberration, like it shouldn't have happened but that would be totally ridiculous. We're trying to approach it like, the real world is when you play really, really well you have a chance to win. When you don't play well and the other team plays well, you've got a chance to lose. When we play really well, end of story."