Villanova isn’t Stanford and this Connecticut team is not in the same mold as their predecessors. But the front of their jerseys still say UConn so the Huskies got back to their winning ways defeating Villanova 81-35 in front of 7,168 at Gampel Pavilion.
I wasn’t stunned last Thursday. In fact, I saw it coming. UConn is a great team, even an amazing team at times, which has made flawless execution their calling card. However this year’s version of the Huskies, has been blemished at times. They overcame some of their shortcomings by outworking the other team and capitalizing on mistakes while riding on the shoulders of one of the greatest players to ever grace a basketball court. Last week they ran into a team that made few mistakes while UConn imploded.
However, everything that was wrong last week, was restored to the normalcy of the last 2 ½ years. UConn’s leading scorers Tiffany Hayes and Maya Moore returned to their normally stellar selves. UConn rebounded, defended and came out with an energy that seemed missing during their loss to Stanford. While a victory, this game wasn’t the prettiest at times.
"I said to them today that I thought they did a lot of good things," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You can sit there and say well you know the competition was this or the competition was that, but I think you can tell by some of the ball movements and how many people we got involved that it was good. I think it took us a couple of minutes to get our feet wet, but overall I thought it was really good. Say what you will, Villanova's shooting percentage was really, really bad, but their ability to get those shots is what you base your defense on. I thought we did a good job defensively. They're not the easiest team to chase around for 60 minutes."
Moore had 16 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals. Hayes added 22 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists. While points and rebounds are fine and dandy, it was their leadership that was on full display during their rout of Villanova. There was Hayes redirecting people to spots, Moore telling Stefanie Dolson where to set a screen. Vocal leadership is sometimes missing from this team but not on this night with so much to prove, mostly to themselves.
UConn used a full court press to help speed up the typical ‘Molasses’ style offense that the Wildcats run. It resulted in 9 first half turnovers by Villanova and their starters not scoring a point in the first half.
"We don't judge our games by the score, but how well we play and how well we execute," Moore said. "We did a lot of things that are going to help us and it's something we can build on. So we're not satisfied, but we are happy with the steps we made."
While the Huskies did do some great things, there is still a lot for UConn to work on.
UConn had 8 turnovers at the half and all 8 were unforced mental errors. While Villanova doesn’t have the personnel to take advantage of it, against a more talented team those unforced errors are points on the other end. They ended with 14 for the game.
Connecticut also gave up 7 - 3-pointers in the 2nd half, the only field goals for Villanova. It was mostly due to sitting back in a highly ineffective zone. Geno Auriemma has said many times that UConn is not a ‘zone’ team. However they need to work on it when the opportunity presents itself because Villanova got open 3’s every time UConn implemented it. While UConn’s man defense didn’t stop Villanova from jacking up 3’s, they were all highly contested and shots that no one outside of Villanova would consider taking.
In addition, UConn’s post play is still looking for the consistency that a top contender needs. Dolson can come out and get 15 rebounds against an All-America center in Jantel Lavender but against a team with no discernable post, like Villanova she gets 2. Heather Buck, while appearing more confident, is not having an easier time. She also only collected 2 rebounds and 6 points for her 14 minutes of floor time. We have said all year this is the area where UConn will be exploited and it still seems to be a concern.
While UConn has a lot to work on they take great solace in knowing that they responded after a setback. "I really didn't have any doubts," Tiffany Hayes said. "I know our team's mentality and I know that all of us, deep down inside, had this attitude that `whoever's next is gonna get it', even though it should have been last game. We all came out with that attitude. We showed it in tonight's game I think."
Next up to potentially ‘get it’ is Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend, Indiana.