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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Freshmen deliver for Huskies

Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart weren't even born the last time the UConn women's basketball team lost consecutive games so the two freshmen had no sense of perspective regarding what was on the line Wednesday night.

What they did know if that the level they were playing at simply was not acceptable.

Stewart had the UConn historians working overtime when she had five 20-point games in her first 10 contests, mixing in a pair of double-doubles for good measure. Jefferson made it look so easy averaging 7.3 points, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals in final three games in the month of November. However, things were not so routine for the top two rated recruits in the current freshman class in recent weeks.

In Stewart's last three games she was 8 of 29 and averaged 7.7 points per game which was a sharp drop from the 16.9 points she has putting up in her first 10 games.

If you take away her 10-point effort against Oregon, Jefferson had seven points on 3 of 17 shooting since the Colgate game with just six assists and two steals during that stretch.

Jefferson was the first player off the bench in both the first and second half against Georgetown. While her jumper was off target resulting in a 1 for 6 effort from 3-point range, it was hard to argue with the rest of her performance. Jefferson had career highs with six rebounds and seven steals to go with nine points, two assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes. Stewart had 10 straight points in a span of 2:28 in the second half and finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

"Breanna has been getting banged around physically and mentally during the last month or so, ever since we got back from the Virgin Islands she has been beat up pretty good," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I thought it was good in the second half that she got to do some things around the basket that she normally could do. Hopefully that would springboard her. She rebounded the ball better which she hadn't done  for a while to this extent and she just showed a much more aggressive nature.

"Moriah Jefferson was the star of the day. Moriah for the whole game was the most consistent player we had. When Moriah can play like that, it really can create an awful lot of good things for us. She can turn defense into offense pretty quickly and then if she is making her shots, we saw the real Moriah Jefferson today and she is only going to get better from here, I hope."

Both Jefferson and Stewart cited an aggressive mindset for being the difference for them.

Stewart did not have that right away. She got pulled from the game in the first half after receiving a pass about five feet from the basket and instead of turning towards for the basket for what would have been a clear path to the hoop, she kicked the ball out.

When she got rolling in the second half it was something to behold. Not only did she score five baskets in rapid succession but she made an athletic one-handed snare of an offensive rebound. Although she lost her balance resulting in possession being given to the Hoyas, it was one of the more eye-opening athletic feats of Stewart's brief tenure with the Huskies.

"I (need to) keep going into the games being aggressive, being confident and things will work out on their own," Stewart said. "I think that (physicality is impacting her) and I have to go out and play and not think about it. It felt good to really get back into the flow of things and make a difference offensively."

Jefferson came into the game for the first time just 3:04 in after Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis picked up two quick fouls. Within six seconds she had a steal and layup. She ended the game guarding Sugar Rodgers, the nation's leading scorer.

"That is the way I used to play," Jefferson said. "I went up and down all the time trying to play pressure defense. I wouldn't say I am waiting, I just haven't been myself. If I play like that, if I play nervous or tentative, it is not good for me or the team so tonight I tried to come out and play a little bit differently.

"I want to try to be the defensive player in the team. I came out and tried to disrupt the people and try to get the ball out of the point guard's hands because I felt like Kelly (Faris) was going to do a good job on Sugar so if we take both of those out of the game, we would be fine.

"I think I stopped thinking so much and just played. I didn't do anything different in pre-game. I just calmed down and stopped trying to go so fast and play my game. I was trying to do too much and I had my head spinning, wasn't focusing on exactly what I needed to do and just playing the game. I think that comes from practicing. I have to learn my speed, I can't go 100 miles an hour but I can't go 2 miles an hour. I have to find my balance."

Morgan Tuck, the third member of UConn's freshman class, missed another game due to a bone bruise in her right knee.

Tuck missed the Oakland and Hartford games due to the discomfort in her knee but when she was able to play in the last three games, it seemed as if the knee issues where in Tuck's rear-view mirror. That was until Tuesday night when Tuck said she felt pain in the knee.

"She was great yesterday after practice, she said she felt great," Auriemma said. "She woke up this morning and last night and I got a message from Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) that she is no go for tomorrow. We practice again on Friday, she has a day to rehab. She usually bounces back pretty good and hopefully she will be ready to go on Saturday (when UConn plays at Marquette).

If asked to list the likelihood of the members of his first national championship team going into coaching, it's highly likely that Carla Berube would have been at the bottom of the pack. Yet, Berube has not only become a coach, the Tufts head coach recently won her 200th career game and did it in fewer games than Auriemma won 200 games.

"She got to 200 faster because she is coaching a lot smarter players than I did and she doesn't have to coach anybody like Carla so that is why she got to 200 faster than me," Auriemma siad. "The most surprised person that Carla Berue became a coach is me and when I saw her team, I am not surprised she won 200 games. She is a hell of a coach and believe it or not and this is impossible for people who were around her for four years (at UConn) she is a great communicator and that would never have dawned on me to say that so I am thrilled for her."

Georgetown senior guard Sugar Rodgers made some pretty impressive shots en route to her game-high 23 points but none might have been as memorable as the deep - and I do mean DEEP - 3-pointer while being fouled by Brianna Banks with 10:16 to play. Rodgers had a chance to complete a rare 4-point play but she missed the free throw.

"That is what I do," Rodgers said if draining the contested 3-pointer. "I also shoot free throws but I was having a bad free throw night but I have to knock those down. Don't even get me started."

Rodgers actually missed more free throws (four) than she did 3-pointers (two) in the game.

It didn't hurt that Rodgers, despite shooting 8 of 22 from the floor, had the second most points than any other opposing player against the Huskies (Purdue's Courtney Moses had 24 points) with Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault watching from press row. Thibault, the former Connecticut Sun coach, and the Mystics have the fourth overall pick and Rodgers is one of the candidates to be selected after the big three of Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame are expected to be taken with the top three picks.

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Anonymous I miss Tina and Renee said...

I saw NO coaching by UConn last night. I saw helter skelter ball. Players running around with their hair on fire. I saw 41 3PT shots, many not even close. Why not let Buck or Stokes just mindlessly jack up 3PT. I saw passes to no one. I saw Faris and Dolson make passes that middle school players make.

Don't blame Georgetown. Great teams are supposed to determine the tempo. West Virginia always slowed down UConn. Always. But apparently, Geno cannot coach his players into running down the shot clock while actually playing inside-outside basketball.

Live by the 3pt, die by the 3pt. UConn's season could easily end in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 if they shoot 16-41 3PT and the other team is hot from 3PT.

If UConn continues to abandon a high-low game with Dolson low and Stewart high, they are abandoning their 2 best options.

Despite UConn's stellar record, this has been a disappointing season. Geno's comments last season set the bar very high for this team this season.

This is a sport where there are only 5 or 6 teams with more than 1% chance to win the national championship. So beating up on all the other teams is a gimme from the start.

It's what Geno does with those 5 or 6 teams that the UConn AD cares about. And the fans. And the media.

7:26 AM 

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