STORRS - A pattern emerged for the UConn womenâs basketball team during its three Big East games last week that has actually been a trademark of the program for some 30 years.
Last Tuesday, the Huskies held Seton Hall leading scorer Mya Jackson to seven points. Forty-eight hours later, Creightonâs top point producer, Temi Carda, was blanked in the first half. Then in Saturdayâs 106-59 rout of Xavier at Gampel Pavilion, Musketeersâ top scorer Nia Clark didnât get on the board until her team was down 30.
Then again, none of those players are like Baylorâs NaLyssa Smith or South Carolinaâs Aliyah Boston, who No. 3 UConn will see during the non-league portion of its schedule. And, remember, Seton Hallâs Lauren Park-Lane did torch UConn for 29 points in Walsh Gymnasium last Tuesday.
Theyâre also not Villanovaâs Maddy Siegrist, who the Huskies will face next in an early-season showdown Tuesday at Finneran Pavilion. The sophomore is the Big Eastâs leading scorer (24.4) and rebounder (12.6).
So while the Huskiesâ defense has looked pretty good on paper, it hasnât been what coach Geno Auriemma has wanted to see.
âWeâre not a really good defensive team,â Auriemma said after picking up his 1,095th win on Saturday. âThe problem is we have a team of some young guys and some older guys that just donât communicate well. Thatâs maybe a sign of poor coaching and not spending enough time on things we need to be spending time on.
âSomething Iâm finding difficult is getting kids to communicate and open their mouth. More importantly, listen.â
The Huskies (4-0 overall, 3-0 Big East) used pressure Saturday to force Xavier (3-2, 0-1) into 14 first-quarter turnovers that they turned into 22 points in taking an insurmountable 31-point lead after just 10 minutes. Imagine what the final score could have been if Auriemma wanted to keep the pressure on longer. For the game, Xavierâs 25 miscues led to 41 UConn points.
Even though the game was decided early, Auriemma has never been one to care about the score when assessing his team. The Hall of Fame coach noted a play that involved freshman Paige Bueckers.
âWeâre at the end of the half, the other team was clearing out and went 1-4 low,â Auriemma said. âPaige said, âTheyâre going to set a flat ball screen at the five-second mark, trap it.â It went in one ear and out the other, and nobody did any of that.â
Itâs not like they couldnât hear Bueckers since there were maybe a dozen or so fans in the building and not 10,027 or so.
âWe donât communicate well, and we donât listen,â Auriemma said. âAs that gets better, weâll be a better defensive team.â
The Huskies are fourth in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (28.7) and fifth in scoring defense (48.5) through four games against opponents far from the top tier.
UConn, though, will challenge Siegrist Tuesday and the 2020 Big East Freshman of the Year and all-league first-team selection will challenge the Huskies.
The 6-foot-1 forward is shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and taking about 18 shots per game, tops on Villanova by a wide margin. She also averages more than four offensive rebounds per outing.
âWe canât put Gabby Williams on her or Kia Nurse on her or Moriah Jefferson on her,â Auriemma said.
Evina Westbrook may get the call to start, at least. Figure Aubrey Griffin will get the opportunity at some point to see if her athleticism will give Siegrist problems.
As far as keeping her off the boards, Olivia Nelson-Ododa can do her part. The Huskiesâ center got the job done Saturday. After not getting a single defensive rebound against Creighton, all 11 of her rebounds against the Musketeers were on the defensive end.
âAfter realizing it the other night, I put the emphasis on myself,â Nelson-Ododa said. âThatâs something I need to produce whenever Iâm playing.â
On the offensive end Saturday, the Huskies put six players in double figures for the first time this season and also hit triple figures for the first time. UConn was also 10-for-18 from 3-point land after hitting at a 28.6-percent clip from behind the arc in its first three games.
The Huskies have gotten better each game. Tuesdayâs game at Villanova will give them the chance to learn more, particularly on the defensive side of the floor.
âI donât think anybody worries too much about their defense,â Auriemma said. âItâs all about run the break, get out in transition, score points, and the other part will take care of itself. We do have to identify somebody we know can do that. Maybe that game will help us identify who that is. Certainly theyâre going to have a tough job whoever that is.
âWeâre good at some things. Weâre really good at some things. Weâre not good at some things. Weâre horrible at some things. Maybe after four games, thatâs where youâre supposed to be.â