UConn women's basketball ready for, in need of winter break

Published on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:18
Written by CARL ADAMEC

Journal Inquirer

UNCASVILLE - There was one consolation for the UConn women’s basketball team following its 69-64 loss to Louisville in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena Sunday.

A year after spending the Christmas break on campus due to COVID-19 concerns, the Huskies -- who on Monday fell out of the Associated Press top 10 for the first time since 2005 -- were heading home for the holiday.

“Going through something so unexpected as last year, you learn not to take moments like this for granted when you do get to go home and see them for more than 3-4 days,” UConn center Olivia Nelson-Ododa said. “The biggest thing will be to go home, enjoy that time, and when we do return get right back to work.”

With their next game scheduled for Dec. 29 against Marquette at the XL Center in Hartford, the players will be able to spend several days with their families before returning to practice Dec. 26.

Among the players scheduled to leave Sunday night for home were Dorka Juhasz to Pecs, Hungary, and Nika Muhl to Zagreb, Croatia.

“That’s always an adventure, getting over there and then getting back,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “So there are a lot of other things to worry about. The basketball will take care of itself when we come back.

“It’s basketball. It’s not life and death.”

When the Huskies (6-3) hit the court for a rematch of the 2021 Big East tournament final on Dec. 29, it will start a stretch of eight games in 20 days that will include trips to Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Eugene, Oregon.

Auriemma wants his players’ time at home to be special.

“It’s Christmas right? It’s the holidays,” Auriemma said. “If you’re home and you’re worried about basketball then you have your priorities screwed up. So for me it is the same message every year. Get away from school, which they love. Get away from basketball, which is necessary. Put it aside, and it will still be here when you get back.

“These breaks sometimes aren’t long enough and you end up playing this particular game on the 21st or the 22nd. “Then you have to be back the 26th. So they’re fortunate that they get a pretty substantial break, and they ought to take advantage of it.”

Marquette lost to Seton Hall at the Al McGuire Center on Sunday and will host Cincinnati on Wednesday before going on its break.

Series in the Cards?

UConn’s last two trips to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville have been memorable.

On March 3, 2014, the Huskies defeated the Cardinals 68-48 on Senior Night before a crowd of 22,163 en route to a perfect 40-0 season. On Jan. 31, 2019, a crowd of 17,023 came out to watch Louisville snap a 16-game losing streak against UConn with a 78-69 victory.

On Sunday, Louisville coach Jeff Walz spoke with UConn associate athletic director Neal Eskin about putting together a home-and-home series, perhaps starting during the 2023-24 season.

“We’re working on getting some things done,” Walz said. “For next year, we’re not going to be able to. Hopefully after that we will.”

UConn and Louisville were scheduled to play a year ago at Mohegan Sun Arena in the Women’s Jimmy V Classic but the game was canceled due to a COVID-19 issue within the Huskies’ program. DePaul replaced UConn and the Cardinals routed the Blue Demons 116-75.

When given the opportunity to play UConn here this season, it was an easy call for Walz to accept.

“It’s a great program, Geno has done a remarkable job, and you know that you’re going to get a great turnout,” Walz said. “It’s an environment that is something that the players want to play in. It was great.”

In the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader here, No. 13 Michigan topped fifth-ranked Baylor 74-68 in overtime.

Memorable play

Walz was the coach of USA Basketball’s U-19 national team that took part in the 2019 FIBA U-19 World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.

His starting backcourt - UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith - was at Mohegan Sun Arena Sunday though Bueckers was on crutches following left knee surgery a week ago.

Team USA was unbeaten heading into the gold-medal game with Australia, but found itself down two with 14.9 seconds left when Walz called time out to set up a play.

“It was a play I had watched North Carolina State run, coach Wes Moore,” Walz said. “He had run it against us.”

The execution by Team USA could not have better.

Inbounding in the front court, Bueckers delivered a lob pass to a cutting Van Lith, who faked and then scored over a defender to tie it.

“It was a play I had watched North Carolina State run, coach Wes Moore,” Walz said. “He had run it against us.

“So we drew it up and Paige made the perfect pass. Hailey was strong enough to come up with it and go back up and finish to get us to overtime.”

Team USA won 74-70 with Bueckers being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

It remains one of Walz’s favorite moments.

“I loved it,” he said. ‘It’s the way USA Basketball is run, the expectations, it’s all first class. You’re coaching kids that are representing their country. It’s an awesome feeling.”

Husky bites

UConn is 1-2 since losing Bueckers and Muhl to injuries with losses to Georgia Tech and Louisville sandwiched around a win over UCLA. It’s the third time since the start of the 1993-94 season that the Huskies have lost two out of three. The other times were in 1999 (losses to Louisiana Tech and Boston College sandwiched around a win over Miami-Florida) and 2020 (losses to Oregon and South Carolina sandwiched around a win over Memphis) … Senior Christyn Williams passed the 1,500-point plateau and stands at 1,506.

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:18. Updated: Wednesday, 22 December 2021 19:21.