I had the opportunity to sit next to a media member from Holy Cross the other day who said something to the effect that ‘Holy Cross isn't intimidated this year' during this year's 77-37 drubbing.
I had to ask, ‘Well, why would they be?' I like, every other sports journalist, have used that term ‘not intimidated', when someone puts up a fight against a purely superior team. But the fact remains that Holy Cross is still filled with Division I basketball players. Players that were in fact recruited and won scholarships to a multitude of schools. They play pick up and work on their game as much as the Huskies. They just might not have some of the athleticism of the Connecticuts and Stanfords of the world.
So for someone to say that they competed and weren't running for the hills because 11 girls had UConn written on their chest is funny because this isn't your old UConn team. This team is **GASP**, seriously flawed.
Nate Parham (@natep_sbn) and I had this ongoing conversation last year about Tennessee and their guard play. Particularly about the propensity to trip over themselves to either shoot the ball or turn it over before they had the opportunity to run an offense.
The only thing that you have to know so far in the early going for UConn this season is eleven, ten and six. Those are the number of shot attempts that 6'5" center Stefanie Dolson got in the 2 exhibitions and Holy Cross game. Compare that with Tiffany Hayes' average of 15 shots per game or Bria Hartley's 11 shots per game. You can understand my cause for concern when your most viable All-American candidate can't get the ball especially when it has been noted that the offense is geared to run for and through her.
Not that Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is admitting to it being an area of concern.
"Cause that's just too easy," Auriemma said, when I questioned the number of Dolson's shots. "Stefanie knows that. We started out the 2nd half and threw it to her the first 2 times, if you do that whole game you aren't accomplishing much. But at the same time we have to do a better job of finding her when she is open and getting her open. Sometimes we are just too quick to shoot it. We aren't confident passing the ball in there."
While I would agree that you don't have to go to her every second she is on the floor, she does have to remain within the flow of your offense to keep it fluid. When ‘one of the best passers from center' you have ever had in your program doesn't have 1 assist and you score 10 points over the last 10 minutes of the half something needs to be examined and it's just not shot selection.
Although shot selection is critical, ball control is also crucial. UConn's starting guards had 10 turnovers versus Holy Cross, 5 committed by Hartley. This against a defense that didn't press or apply ball pressure and doesn't provide anywhere near the defensive intensity that UConn is bound to see this season from the likes of Stanford, Baylor, Rutgers, Georgetown or Texas A&M.
Tennessee had a similar issue last year. The person who needed the ball in their hand for that team to function, was also at times the reason for that team's demise.
One answer for this UConn's issue might be Caroline Doty.
Doty herself had 2 turnovers, but that is not half bad after not playing in an organized game in well over a year and a half. It was just an incredible moment to hear her name called out over the loud speaker. I don't really have personal interest in many athletes. Call it a hazard of the job. But nonetheless I truly root for that kid every day because she deserves it. The game is so important to her and she enjoys it for all the right reasons.
Besides Doty's ability to control the ball, Connecticut just needs her brain. On a team with 7 freshman and sophomores, even as heralded as they are, they are going to produce some head scratching moments and the once fiery and headstrong guard is just smart.
For example, in the first half against Holy Cross there were a few contested rebounds on the offensive end, knowing that she couldn't get her hands on the ball because of her limited jumping ability she tipped it out, under control to her only teammate that could have caught it. That is what this team needs more than points. It's the ability to know the right play and make it when it is needed. A completed entry pass to the post would be icing.
Another area of concern is the ability to rebound the ball. UConn has made mention all preseason of how small they are. Stanford and Baylor called me: they don't care. The average Holy Cross player is 5'10". Stanford is well over 6 feet. Baylor over 6'1". UConn gave up 11 offensive rebounds against Holy Cross. Holy Cross. Did I mention who is coming to town on Monday?
I haven't said it in print but I will now: this team will miss Maya's 8.2 rebounds a whole lot more than her 23 points. You just can't teach that instinct.
I will say that there will not be many 1 rebound games for Kelly Faris in her career. She has that ability. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has that instinct. Everyone else? Eh. That will be determined. UConn's guards have to rebound huge for them to battle with the best. Until that day this team will continue to have tons of questions.
It is early in the season and obviously the offense is a work in progress. In the early going, the easiest way to score points is just to produce more chances to and the way to do that is steals and rebounds.
UConn was very successful in the 2nd half applying some pressure and getting some deflections and steals. This team shines while in transition. And struggles in a half court offense that doesn't involve a jump shot.
UConn has some of the best guard depth of anyone in the country. How this depth is developed, managed and cultivated will single-handedly determine if this team is last year's Lady Vols team or a redux of 2004-2005, where after the departure of Diana Taurasi, UConn did not know if they were coming or going and players were left in unfamiliar roles, like being the star. That is one of Auriemma's biggest concerns.
"In terms of 'Renee, Tina, Maya and now Tiffany,' I don't think it's going to go like that," Auriemma said. "Some people just aren't born to play that role. Tiffany was in the perfect role as a freshman and sophomore. There were so many people around that you forgot about her sometimes and all of a sudden in an eight-minute spurt she won the game. Last year when she had to be more than she had ever been, there were times she struggled with that."
That is the biggest fear with Tiffany. That she will try to be Tina, Renee and Maya all at once and end up being Ann Strother.
It is early. Extremely early. Too early for UConn to scare anyone, Holy Cross included.
"Obviously, they are not as good," said Holy Cross Head Coach, Bill Gibbons. "She [Maya Moore] was just such a steadying influence, or there if they needed a play. I think (Caroline) Doty, when she gets healthy, can do that for them and give them that swagger. They are kind of missing that a little bit. They've got some good young guys. They'll have some growing pains, but sure as God made little green apples, Geno is going to have them ready for tournament time."
I agree Husky fans. Just be ready to read 6 or 8 in the second column when reading the Huskies' record before then.