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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hayes emerging as a leader

Without a doubt, the most popular question I have receiving during this offseason is who will step into the leadership role.

Obviously Caroline Doty is a fiery competitor who can be a first-rate leader but her knee problems make it tough for her to stay on the court. If she can play the entire season, there's no doubt that she will be the vocal leader on the 2011-12 squad. But she needs some help. Neither senior Tiffany Hayes nor junior Kelly Faris are the rah-rah types (then again neither was Maya Moore). Hayes, a starter on a national championship team, should be one of the Huskies leaders. She said she wants to fill the role. Well, at Big East media day on Thursday, I was curious if UConn coach Geno Auriemma thought she was taking steps to becoming a leader. I think you will be encouraged by his response.

"So far after five days she really has (become a leader) which is good," Auriemma said. "That is kind of what you want players to think. You want them to say I will be that person who is an anchor. I don't know anybody who has has better practices than her so I hope she decides to take on that role.

"If your seniors who are capable of being leaders don't fill void then somebody else is going to fill it or it is not going to get filled at all. If it doesn't get filled at all, then we have a problem. If the wrong person fills it, then we have a problem so Tiffany knows that Tiffany, Caroline and Kelly have to fill that role. If they do, we are going to be great. If they don't, we aren't going to be very good.

"I have already seen a difference in her than at any time in that last four years. Her frustration level is at an all-time low whereas before it was always bubbling below the surface. I would categorize it as 50/50, half the time she is great and the other half she is frustrated. The first five days of practice, it has been a a minimum 70/30 and that has never happened before. I think she is learning what those things are. It is not just saying something or yelling something, it is more of we haven't  scored in a couple of possessions so she gets an offensive rebound scores and gets fouled. She gets a steal, makes a huge 3 and after missing two in a row, she makes a big play. I think those things are things where your teammates know you are there for them as opposed to 'things aren't going well for me so the hell with it.' It is not Tiffany's talent that gets her in trouble, it is her mind. If her mind is right, she is as good as anybody out there."

The days of Hayes standing outside the 3-point line and launching 3-pointers are over. Hey, she will still take perimeter jumpers but she will be asked to get into the post more than ever before especially if UConn goes to a four-guard starting lineup of Doty-Hartley-Faris-Hayes-Dolson as expected.

"One of the things we are trying to get her to understand is that you can't score when she is falling down all the time," Auriemma said. "You can't be falling down as much as a senior as you did as a freshman. You are not very effective scoring while laying down on the floor. I would venture to say in the first five days of practice, the fact is that I can't remember how many times she has fallen down, it probably has only happened once or twice. Her body control and what she is trying to get done when she is in there is much different."

Auriemma hasn't been entirely thrilled with what he saw from the first five days of practice. Turnover have been a major issue. Of course, some of that can be attributed to Bria Hartley being out with a concussion and Caroline Doty being limited as she works her way back from a minor knee procedure. Auriemma knows it will take some time for his young team to find a comfort level.

"Once we start to find out who these guys are, where the shots are coming from, who is the scorer, we'll be (better)," Auriemma said. "I think Tiffany can be a huge help with that."

One issue that time can not heal is a lack of size when the best lineup is on the court. Auriemma knows there will be games when a team with a couple of big kids inside (Stanford, Notre Dame, Baylor immediately come to mind), the Huskies may have some matchup issues.

"Our best lineup and probably four guards and Stefanie so a team that has two big post players is going to be a tough matchup for us but we are going to be a tough matchup for them too," Auriemma said. "We are going to try to zig and zag and hope that their tough matchup is harder on them than it is on us."

STEWART/U.S. OPENS PAN AM GAMES PLAY TODAY
The U.S. squad, featuring UConn commit Breanna Stewart, will play its first game in the Pan Am Games in a couple of hours. The U.S. will face Argentina at 2 p.m. Eastern time today, then play Puerto Rico tomorrow and wrap up pool play against Mexico. The final game will air live on ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m.

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