Auriemma wants UConn women's basketball to emphasize communication, defense

Published on Monday, 21 December 2020 17:53
Written by CARL ADAMEC


STORRS - A pattern emerged for the UConn women’s 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, Creighton’s top point producer, Temi Carda, was blanked in the first half. Then in Saturday’s 106-59 rout of Xavier at Gampel Pavilion, Musketeers’ top scorer Nia Clark didn’t get on the board until her team was down 30.

Then again, none of those players are like Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith or South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, who No. 3 UConn will see during the non-league portion of its schedule. And, remember, Seton Hall’s Lauren Park-Lane did torch UConn for 29 points in Walsh Gymnasium last Tuesday.

They’re also not Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist, who the Huskies will face next in an early-season showdown Tuesday at Finneran Pavilion. The sophomore is the Big East’s leading scorer (24.4) and rebounder (12.6).

So while the Huskies’ defense has looked pretty good on paper, it hasn’t been what coach Geno Auriemma has wanted to see.

“We’re not a really good defensive team,” Auriemma said after picking up his 1,095th win on Saturday. “The problem is we have a team of some young guys and some older guys that just don’t communicate well. That’s maybe a sign of poor coaching and not spending enough time on things we need to be spending time on.

“Something I’m finding difficult is getting kids to communicate and open their mouth. More importantly, listen.”

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, Xavier’s 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.

“We’re at the end of the half, the other team was clearing out and went 1-4 low,” Auriemma said. “Paige said, ‘They’re going to set a flat ball screen at the five-second mark, trap it.’ It went in one ear and out the other, and nobody did any of that.”

It’s not like they couldn’t hear Bueckers since there were maybe a dozen or so fans in the building and not 10,027 or so.

“We don’t communicate well, and we don’t listen,” Auriemma said. “As that gets better, we’ll be a better defensive team.”

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.

“We can’t put Gabby Williams on her or Kia Nurse on her or Moriah Jefferson on her,” 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 Huskies’ 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.

“After realizing it the other night, I put the emphasis on myself,” Nelson-Ododa said. “That’s something I need to produce whenever I’m playing.”

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. Tuesday’s game at Villanova will give them the chance to learn more, particularly on the defensive side of the floor.

“I don’t think anybody worries too much about their defense,” Auriemma said. “It’s 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 they’re going to have a tough job whoever that is.

“We’re good at some things. We’re really good at some things. We’re not good at some things. We’re horrible at some things. Maybe after four games, that’s where you’re supposed to be.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Monday, 21 December 2020 17:53. Updated: Monday, 21 December 2020 17:55.