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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Let's get ready to rumble

Both UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Kim Mulkey, his Baylor counterpart, have followed the script pretty well in the last few days spouting propaganda about how tonight's clash at the XL Center means nothing in the quest of capturing their respective conference titles.

For the media, this is about as good as it gets. I'd be hard pressed to recall a more worthless string February games UConn has played in during 10-11 years I have covered the Huskies. Other than freshmen Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck starting to gain some confidence and Bria Hartley (before her 4-minute cameo against Rutgers) has shown flashes of returning to her pre-sprained ankle form. Other than that these games have had little benefit for the Huskies. It's no UConn's fault that this could be the worst season in Big East women's basketball in recent memory and teams like Villanova, DePaul, Marquette barely made the Huskies break a sweat. UConn's biggest challenge was trying to keep the score from getting even more out of hand than it already was.

Now comes a test against top-ranked Baylor and the possibilities are endless. I always find myself intrigued by how the coaches choose to attack the opposing team in colossal matchups like this one.

It's safe to say that Baylor's Brittney Griner and UConn's Stefanie Dolson will see plenty of each other and I fully expect Baylor defensive stopper Jordan Madden to draw the assignment on UConn's top scorer Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Then it gets interesting. Does Kelly Faris start out on Odyssey Sims? I would say no and that Hartley gets her to start this. If that is the case, does Faris try to keep Brooklyn Pope off the offensive glass or does she try to prevent Kimetria Hayden from being the secondary playmaker?

One of the biggest questions is what UConn does with Caroline Doty? Her steady hand in the backcourt is often overlooked but she could struggle defensively to match up on either Madden or Hayden. Doty will need to have an aggressive mindset on offense and if she can hit a couple of early shots, she could have a chance to impact the game. If not, I'd have to think that freshmen Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart may need to eat up the minutes that typically go to Doty and that is especially true if UConn gets down early or gets beaten badly on the boards.

Stewart is also a major question mark. Saying she is in a bit of a funk right now would be a major understatement. Stewart is shooting 33.3 percent from the field in the last three games and is 0 for 7 from 3-point range over that span. I was among those who wrote stories saying that the arrival of Stewart and Tuck should benefit UConn when it faces Griner this year. Well now we will get to see if this is just idle chatter and nobody knows that more than Auriemma who said yesterday  "(Stewart) gets too fast. It is a blessing and a curse, she wants to be really good really fast and that is not going to happen that fast. If it did happen that fast and you would ask me how I would feel about (tonight), I'd feel a lot better." Stewart and Kiah Stokes have the length to make things difficult for Griner but they need to play with confidence.

I'm also very curious to see how the Huskies execute in the half-court offense. It should be noted that the Huskies are the highest scoring team in Division I (and also tops in scoring defense). But when things get difficult, UConn would often look to get the ball to Stefanie Dolson in the lane. With the menacing shot-blocking presence of Griner looming, that can't be the bail-out option. Perhaps even more important is that Baylor's three top perimeter players (Sims, Hayden and Madden) were all in the top 20 nationally in assist/turnover ratio in the most recent NCAA statistical database so it will not be easy to get free points. If UConn's offense bogs down against Notre Dame, what will it do when trying to find room to operate against Griner? A year ago UConn did a nice job early on of moving the ball from side to side to somewhat minimize Griner's ability to disrupt the offense and that has to be a point of emphasis today. Dolson has the range to step out on the perimeter and draw out Griner and she is a top-notch passer so the Huskies have the pieces in place to attack Baylor.

More than a few eyes will be on Hartley. She was still coughing a bit in yesterday's practice and if she is not 100 percent, that won't help the Huskies. Hartley has been a big-game player from the second she stepped on the court. Hartley was just starting to look like the player who earned All-American honors as a sophomore before getting sick. Hartley will need to not only be strong defensively but also make some shots.

It should be a fun one.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

A game like the ND game was "fun", until the end. If Baylor goes to Griner early and often, it could be a long night for the team and a short night for the fans.

Tuck and Stewie have never seen anything like Griner. Will they watch with wide eyed looks--or will the play basketball??

Dolson will get 1 or 2 open shots from outside. Then the clamps come on and Jefferson will have to drive the seams and attack Griner. They were teammates you know.

5:50 PM 

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