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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Some early thoughts about Baylor/UConn

Having watching No. 2 UConn and No. 1 Baylor play in a span of three days, the first thought that comes into my head as I look ahead to Sunday's nationally-televised showdown is that I hope I don't see UConn's second-half performance against Seton Hall and Baylor's first-half effort against St. John's.

Something tells me both teams will be a little more zoned in when the ball is thrown into the air a little past 8:30 Sunday night.

I'll start with that I saw on Sunday when Baylor allowed a small but athletic St. John's team to dictate tempo for the first 30 minutes. I loved the Red Storm's game plan. On offense they drove the ball towards Brittney Griner whenever possible and if they couldn't get her far enough away to set up a cutting teammate for a layup, they would kick it out to the perimeter. When St. John's let the game get away in the second half it was in large part because of ill-advised drives right at Griner. While Griner's shot-blocking numbers (she is quickly closing in on Courtney Paris for No. 5 on the NCAA Division I all-time list) are impressive, it is her ability to block the ball and keep it in play which leads to the Lady Bears getting out on the fast break. I fully expect to see UConn try to do what St. John's did during the first half and try to get Griner moving laterally and throw the ball to offensive players away from Griner to limit her impact as a shot blocker.

Defensively, I was impressed with what Mary Nwachukwu was able to do early on against Griner. I doubt Nwachukwu's name made it into too many game stories since she was scoreless (missing all four of her shots) and had just two rebounds, one assist and one steal in 34 minutes. However, she was able to get physical with Griner and pushed the Baylor star off the blocks whenever she could. That style seemed to fluster Griner. Although giving up six inches, she was able to front Griner and teammates would cheat down from the other Baylor forwards to keep Griner from getting the ball. St. John's also did a good job of applying pressure on the ball so they couldn't have an easy time throwing the ball into the post. What this did was open up room for Brooklyn Pope and she responded with 19 points and eight rebounds and give Baylor some open looks from 3-point range.

With all due respect to Nwachukwu, I don't see her as being a pivotal part of St. John's offensive game plan so the Red Storm could afford to let her bang Griner around and if she picked up some early fouls, no harm done. I don't think that is the case with Dolson. I don't see UConn beating Baylor if Dolson is saddled with foul trouble so she will need to be careful just how physical she gets with Griner. Depending how quickly Dolson gets her first foul, I wonder if the UConn coaching staff might go to either Heather Buck or Kiah Stokes early on and use up some fouls.

I also doubt that Odyssey Sims will commit as many silly fouls as she did on Sunday. Once she was out of the game, the Baylor offense seemed like a rudderless ship. Also, Destiny Williams was benched for the first half for a disciplinary matter and she will be available for all 40 minutes against the Huskies. Having those two on the floor brings a different dimension to Baylor.

On UConn's end, I already addressed the Dolson factor. Tiffany Hayes figures to play a key role. If she steps up in a big way, I think she can wreak havoc with the Baylor defensive scheme with her ability to penetrate as well as being able to hit from the perimeter. I would expect to see Hayes and Bria Hartley drive into the lane early and often giving Caroline Doty, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kelly Faris opportunities from the perimeter.

I have a hunch UConn will try to deal with Griner one on one more often than not and make the other players beat them. They need to keep Pope off the offensive glass and turn Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden into jump shooters. I know Hayden has eight 3-pointers but I'd take my chance with her having to knock down shots. More than anything, they need to make Sims' life as difficult as possible. Before Sunday I thought UConn would be crazy to try to press Baylor but watching how out of control Sims was at times bringing the ball up the floor makes me think the Huskies will attempt to extend their defense against Baylor.

I will be curious to see who Kelly Faris matches up with defensively, will she be asked to deal with Griner (even if she is giving up nine inches) or get out on Sims? Perhaps she'll be asked to lock up on either Williams or Pope, two outstanding offensive rebounders. There will be some intriguing individual matchups going on during the course of the game. It should be a fun one, I am looking forward to it.

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