Huskies win an ugly one
Without Dolson in the lineup, UConn's offense bogged down as much as it has at any time this season until it mattered the most.
Although he couldn't call upon his best low-post player, UConn coach Geno Auriemma decided to improvise but having sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis get the ball in the lane late in the game.
Mosqueda-Lewis was fouled three times in a span of five possessions including once when she completed a three-point play to lift the Huskies to a 71-65 win over St. John's on Saturday.
"Coach (Auriemma) just said that he didn't think I was getting enough shots so he kind of mentioned it to the team that we wanted to get some more shots," said Mosqueda-Lewis, who did not attempt her first shot in the second half until there was 10:38 remaining. "When I went in there he drew up a play and we tried to execute it. My teammates did a good job of finding me wherever I was cutting.
"I want to be there for my team and show them that they can count on me."
"You are always searching for what is going to work, what is our best option on this possession what do we really need," Auriemma said. "You've got Kiah Stokes and Morgan Tuck in the game, it is not automatic that look we are going to run when we have Stef and let's get one of these two guys in the lane, boom, boom, boom you are going to score and get fouled. It is not there yet so you are looking for other ways to get the same things accomplished. It falls on Kelly and Kaleena tonight, Bria is really struggling and that is an understatement probably and that is one less thing we have to work with. You have to keep searching with what is working that night."
St. John's coach Joe Tartamella also spoke in glowing terms about the impact Mosqueda-Lewis had during crunch time.
"We knew she was tough," Tartamella said. "She is a good player and she is improving every day. We talked to our players about being as physical as possible and not getting touch fouls. She worked really hard to get the ball and we have to work at that same level and try to deny her that position."
Auriemma found his options limited in the second half when it came time to make personnel changes.
Not only was Dolson unavailable but sophomore guard Brianna Banks suffered a sprained right knee (with UConn hoping it doesn't turn into a season-ending injury) and did not play in the second half. Senior guard Caroline Doty did not return to the game after coming out six minutes into the half.
"I think the game was being played where we needed to play at both ends of the floor and I thought it was a struggle defensive for her at times, shots were hard to come by so I was just hoping that Bria could get off and running at some point or Moriah could get something," Auriemma said.
Speaking of people who struggled, it was not an easy day for either freshman guard Bria Hartley or freshman forward Breanna Stewart who were a combined 5 for 21 from the field including 0 for 7 from 3-point range.
Auriemma thinks it is more of a case of Hartley's confidence lagging than anything to do with the sprained ankle which sidelined her for more than a month during preseason drills.
"Probably a multitude of things," Auriemma said when asked to explain Hartley's offensive struggles. "I can't tel you how good she was in September and the early part of October. If I were to try to explain it, I couldn't describe it and then missing that months and continuing to reinjure her ankle... I think it has gotten into her head and it is a big struggle. It is much more of a mental struggle than it is a physical struggle. She shot one ball and hit the bottom of the rim and it came straight down. I remember saying to her 'at least get it up in the air.' And the look on her face is 'I am trying.' It is just nothing is going her way, she has to play her way through it.."
Auriemma searched for the right answers all game long. He started Kiah Stokes for Dolson but didn't think Stokes accomplished that much in the first half so he went with a small lineup to start the second half with Moriah Jefferson replacing Stokes in the starting five.
"At that point we were just searching for something, we were trying to get a grip on it," Auriemma said. "We thought maybe if we could go small, maybe we could (apply) pressure a little more or push tempo a little more or better than we had and maybe get some more opportunities to drive the ball and get to the free-throw line because we weren't shooting the ball great but it didn't pan out so well, did it? One time I looked over at the bench and we had Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Kiah Stokes sitting there staring and I said 'are you guys happy now? Are you happy with the way this is going? Do you enjoy sitting here watching?' They all looked at me like 'no but it doean't matter because in three minutes you are going to have to put us in.' I think they are smarter than I am because they knew they were going to get in.
"It is a fine line you walk with the freshmen. How much do you harp on them to do the things they are not good at to get better at the things they are not good at. Breanna (Stewart) is a really good perimeter player but what we have to do is get her better with the ball, get her better against pressure, get her able to handle the (physicality) of the game, things that they never had to worry about when they were in high school."