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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Abrupt end to practice

When I walked into the open portion of Wednesday's practice at Gampel Pavilion at 12:30 p.m., UConn women's basketball SID Pat McKenna told me he expected practice would run past its scheduled 1 p.m. ending. That's hardly unusual especially when the men's team isn't coming up next and needing the court.

I was in there enough to see about a minute's worth of drills. When reserve guard Lauren Engeln took the ball in the backcourt, raced up the court and sliced into the lane with limited resistance from the Blue team, consisting of the starters. Engeln delivered a pass to a cutting practice player for an uncontested layup. Michala Johnson, Engeln's teammate on the White or reserve team, clapped her hands and said 'way to go, White team." UConn coach Geno Auriemma had a different reaction as he blurted out 5-spot. The 5-spot is the drill that the Huskies end every practice with. When they team finishes and gathered around him, an irate Auriemma let them have it going as far as telling the team that they should raise their hands when they are tired of practicing just so he knows.

Auriemma asked that the players be interviewed first and when he came back to meet with the media, he had cooled off. He said that about 90 percent of the practice was productive but the last few minutes left a lot of be desired. He is attempting to get his squad to push through the mental and physical fatigue. It will be a theme of his this season as he asks his players to reach back for energy and a sense of focus that they probably don't think they possess.

"I think we go in spurts and we don't last the whole practice so I think that's our big thing," junior Kelly Faris said. "It is hard to get everybody on the same page, some people don't get it yet and some people don't have the right mentality. We don't do a good job of keeping everybody accountable."

Sophomore center Stefanie Dolson agreed with Faris.

"The reason he did it was we did really well for the first two hours of practice and that last hour we just kind of lost focus," Dolson said. "We weren't doing things correctly, we weren't going hard like we were for the first two hours. I definitely understand why he is getting upset like that. I think at this point he is getting so fed up with us doing that. I can't say this is the first time we have done it.

"It is halfway through the season and the way we responded to the Baylor loss is not the way we should at this point., Maybe if they were the second game of the season but they weren't, the fact that we are not on the same page we just have to come together. I think we are so young that we lose focus so easily. I know it bothers me. I think some people are bothered by things and some people aren't. You never want to end a practice like that. It is frustrating because I see what he sees too and it is me too. We were so high in the first two hours, our energy, our competitiveness and then we just lost it."

Auriemma downplayed what he saw from his squad on Wednesday when he met with the media. I think he was wise to have us interview the players first so he could get some time to settle down because he was one unhappy camper when he left the court.
"It is just we don't have enough bodies that can operate at a certain level," Auriemma said. "I don't want to go through what we went through last year when we were scrambling to constantly find seven, eight or nine people that can perform at a certain level. If we are not careful, it kind of takes it toll on players especially when there are no practice players. Some of our guys don't get a break. I am kind of excited that (next season) we will have 13 and that will make it so much better, so much easier. Today, we had a great 90 percent of practice was really good and the last 10 percent when we were trying to assimilate the last three miutes of the game and we have to get to that point."
In other news, Heather Buck was able to take part in practice. She will likely have to wear a hard cast or at least a splint wrapped with an ace bandage but she is expected to play tomorrow when UConn ends the 2011 portion of its schedule by playing Fairfield.

Speaking of Fairfield, Auriemma said he likes playing the in-state teams, as long as they want to step up to the challenge of playing the Huskies. He said he wouldn't mind playing a game at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport but he believed that the XL Center would have to be agreeable to it since they have the rights to all home games not played at Gampel. Rather than playing a regular-season game, Auriemma said he would like to have a preseason game there. It couldn't come against Fairfield or Sacred Heart since the only way UConn could play another Division I team in a preseason game would be if the game/scrimmage was closed to the public. Perhaps a Division II squad like Bridgeport, New Haven or Southern Connecticut State could be an option or a Division II team from New York.

In other scheduling news, ESPN is getting involved in having UConn and Baylor play next season. Both Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and Auriemma said earlier this month that it was quite possible that the teams would not meet in the regular season next year. But a source at UConn confirmed that ESPN is pushing for the teams to play a game in February in Hartford, something UConn is in favor of. Baylor would rather have the game played before the start of the Big 12 season but it doesn't look like they have that option.

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