Auriemma's Huskies suddenly falling apart

Published on Friday, 10 December 2021 14:46
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

Geno Auriemma looked beaten, which is saying something considering his UConn women’s basketball team has lost only 68 times in its last 1,030 games.

But Thursday night’s mess, a 57-44 loss to Georgia Tech at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta had the coach searching for answers.

“I knew today was going to be really, really hard,” Auriemma said. “When you only have two days of practice and five of the players you have available are guards, practice is still going to be really good. When you have two guards and one guy you have to make into a guard and the rest are big guys, practice isn’t going to be any good.”

His roster was down to eight healthy players but it wasn’t like Auriemma was throwing the JV out there against the varsity. Four of the Huskies’ starters - Christyn Williams, Evina Westbrook, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, and Dorka Juhasz - had a combined 4,470 career points entering the game. The fifth starter - Aaliyah Edwards - was an Olympian with Team Canada last summer. Three McDonald’s High School All-Americans were available off the bench.

But while Auriemma did try to mix and match, the mix didn’t look good right from the start and it got worse in the fourth quarter when UConn (5-2) fell apart.

The Huskies’ first shot from the floor was a Williams air ball from 3-point land. Their final shot from the floor with 45 seconds left was a Williams air ball from 3-point land. The 39 minutes or so in between wasn’t much prettier.

It was the first time since 2006 they didn’t reach 45 points.

“If you work hard and play good defense and rebound the ball it gives you a chance to be in position to win the game, but it’s not going to win the game for you,” Auriemma said. “You still have to have guys who can score and you still have to have guys who are organized. We are disorganized.

“That’s the biggest thing I can tell you is we are disorganized as a group right now, from the coaching all the way down, everybody. There is no sense of we have a plan of how we’re going to execute, how we’re going to get a bucket, who is going to get it for us. We just don’t. Scoring is really a function of people working together. I thought Georgia Tech did a great job of that.”

Already without Azzi Fudd and Aubrey Griffin, it’s no surprise it didn’t look great with reigning Player of the Year Paige Bueckers sidelined. The double-body blow, though, was when UConn announced Wednesday that Nika Muhl would not be available because of a foot issue. No one is going to confuse Muhl for Bueckers, particularly as a scorer. But Muhl showed last year that she could get the Huskies into their offense and that alone would allow Westbrook and Williams to stay in positions they’re most comfortable in.

The big lineup with Nelson-Ododa, Juhasz, and Edwards didn’t look right. Auriemma adjusted and gave Caroline Ducharme 29 minutes of action but the freshman wing could not recreate her fourth-quarter magic from Sunday against Notre Dame.

“You can blame Paige not being here, and that is part of it, but that isn’t the real story,” Auriemma said.

Williams and Westbrook have been up and down for a month so Thursday night was nothing new. Juhasz has struggled in a new system and looks nothing like a two-time all-Big Ten player. Nelson-Ododa did record her second straight double-double in her homecoming but she’d be the first to say she needed to be better. The most positive thing UConn can take is the eight minutes and four points and three rebounds that freshman Amari DeBerry gave in her debut.

Here’s a question: What the heck did the Canadian Olympic Team do to Edwards?

A 69-percent shooter from the floor a year ago now can’t make a layup. The aggression in the paint, on the boards, and in pursuing loose balls is a distant memory. In seven games, she has either not scored (twice) or not got a rebound (once) three times. It happened once in 29 games a year ago.

No one can blame Edwards for wanting to play in the Olympics and have that experience. She’d make the same decision 100 times over and it would be the right one. But she’s not the same player that left Storrs in the spring.

The Huskies could use the break for fall semester final exams right now. But there’s a game to be played against UCLA at the Never Forget Tribute Classic Saturday in New Jersey first.

There’s only so much a coach - even a Hall of Fame coach - can do.

“We’re in a bad way right now as a team,” Auriemma said. “That’s that.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Friday, 10 December 2021 14:46. Updated: Friday, 10 December 2021 14:48.