It‚Äôs not like Chris Dailey sits on the UConn women‚Äôs basketball team‚Äôs bench game after game, season after season, doing nothing but drinking a Diet Coke.
She‚Äôs in the Women‚Äôs Basketball Hall of Fame for a reason.
With Geno Auriemma missing his first NCAA Tournament game after 141 outings and 32 seasons Sunday following his testing positive for COVID-19 on March 14, Dailey took charge and the Huskies did as well.
Top-seeded UConn blasted No. 16 High Point 102-59 in a River Walk Regional first-round game at the Alamodome in San Antonio. With Auriemma unable to rejoin the team until Wednesday, Dailey will again be at the helm when the Huskies (25-1) face No. 8 Syracuse for a berth in the Sweet 16 Tuesday at 9 p.m.
‚ÄúCoach and CD have been doing this for 36 years,‚ÄĚ UConn All-American Paige Bueckers said. ‚ÄúThey have a great IQ for basketball. When Coach steps out, CD steps up. Obviously it‚Äôs different, but they both have great basketball minds and we can count on them both,‚ÄĚ
Dailey is now 11-0 in Auriemma‚Äôs absences. That does not count the Hall of Fame coach‚Äôs ejections against Vanderbilt on Dec. 29, 1992, and against Kentucky on Nov. 24, 1999. The Huskies were hopelessly behind when he got tossed against the Commodores, but Dailey did have enough time to help rally the Huskies past the Wildcats seven years later.
UConn was also without assistant coach Shea Ralph Sunday as she left the San Antonio bubble Wednesday out of an abundance of caution after a family member of hers tested positive. That left Dailey, assistant coach Jamelle Elliott, and video coordinator Ben Kantor - who served as an assistant coach at Houston Baptist and Colgate - to guide the ship.
‚ÄúIt obviously feels different not having Geno and Shea here,‚ÄĚ Dailey said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre a program that, ‚ÄėHey, next guy up,‚Äô and we don‚Äôt worry who‚Äôs not here. We have to worry about who we have and that goes the same with injuries.
‚ÄúJamelle and I worked together for a long time before she came back and we have a good rapport. Ben is another set of eyes that can be helpful. So far, so good.‚ÄĚ
It wasn‚Äôt perfect, even with the score.
The Huskies missed a bunch of layups early and High Point‚Äôs 3-point shooters were able to find openings.
Eventually UConn‚Äôs size advantage was too much for the Panthers and they wore down trying to keep up.
‚ÄúIt felt great to be on the court again and get a rhythm,‚ÄĚ UConn center Olivia Nelson-Ododa said.
The Huskies arrived in San Antonio Tuesday and began practicing on Thursday.
UConn entered Sunday with just three players - juniors Nelson-Ododa, Christyn Williams, and Evina Westbrook - having NCAA Tournament experience. That is the fewest it‚Äôs had since making its NCAA debut in 1989 against La Salle at the Storrs Field House.
‚ÄúOur juniors have stepped up and since we‚Äôve been able to practice they‚Äôve set the tone in our practices,‚ÄĚ Dailey said. ‚ÄúThey have a sense of calmness about them that helps our younger players.‚ÄĚ
And the freshmen did their part.
Bueckers finished with 24 points to break Katie Lou Samuelson‚Äôs five-year-old record of 22 for most points scored by a UConn freshman in her NCAA Tournament debut. Aaliyah Edwards added 17 points and 12 rebounds. Nika Muhl helped set a defensive tone before she went out with a sprained right ankle with 6:08 to go in the first half.
‚ÄúWe know that our teammates need us,‚ÄĚ Bueckers said. ‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt really care that we‚Äôre freshmen. There are seven of us so we knew we had to step up and play well for our upperclassmen. This has been an on-going thing all year where the freshmen need to perform in order for us to win.‚ÄĚ
The conditions haven‚Äôt mattered.
‚ÄúWe really don‚Äôt know anything different,‚ÄĚ Bueckers said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre just trying to come in with a positive mindset. Like Coach has told us before, whatever team handles this the best way is going to come out on top.‚ÄĚ
UConn finished with five in double figures with Nelson-Ododa (22), Williams (13), and Westbrook (10) joining the freshmen.
The Huskies will face Syracuse for the first time since slicing up the Orange in a 2017 NCAA second-round game in Storrs.
Dailey will have them prepared, the way she prepares herself for any situation.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs CD,‚ÄĚ Nelson-Ododa said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs really no difference between the coaches. It really relies on us players. We know the expectations. We know the intensity and effort we need to bring.‚ÄĚ