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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

UConn's "continued excellence" on display

As the final seconds ran off the clock and Louisville ended Brittney Griner's dominant run at Baylor with a stunning Sweet 16 upset, it was impossible not to be struck with how UConn's ability to survive and advance year after after is truly an impressive achievement.

UConn rolled by Maryland and Kentucky to reach a record-setting sixth straight Final Four and Baylor inability to repeat even with its entire freshman class back and a top-notch recruiting class made for an intriguing compare and contrast situation.

"We talked about the fact that the opening game of year on Nov. 7," ESPN's Doris Burke said. "We asked (Baylor coach) Kim (Mulkey) 'are they hungry.' She said 'I think I have to worry about complacency.' Wen you absorb the fact that Brittney Griner went to two Final Fours and has one national championship and you could make the case that they had the best point guard and best (starting) five in the country, it absolutely draws attention to the continued excellence of UConn and Tennessee. The player who has maybe had the greatest individual impact that I have ever seen when you talk about the number of possessions affected on both ends of the floor, she goes to two Final Fours? There may be no greater testimony to what UConn has done consistently for 28 years. It is pretty amazing."

It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Baylor would be playing in the Final Four and likely be cutting down the nets after winning a second national title.

"That is one of the things that we all took for granted," ESPN studio analyst Kara Lawson said. "We all kind of assumed that Baylor would be here. You have to be ready every night. Certainly it speaks to what Connecticut has done this year going to six (Final Fours) in a row, every night in the tournament they have been ready for the first four rounds and that is not easy to do. I think that hit home and teams that are able to win back to back, that is the other thing that hit home when they lost is that it is not that easy to have that target on your back the entire year and win it again."

When Kara Lawson and the rest of the Connecticut Sun squad suit up for the opening day of training camp on May 5, a couple of familiar faces will be missing as veteran forward Asjha Jones is skipping the 2013 season to recover from a variety of injuries and third-year wing Daneille McCray suffered a torn Achilles while playing professionally in Italy earlier this week.

"You never wish that on anybody, they are tough and if you play for any length of time at the pro level you
have had them," Lawson said. "They diminish what you can give to your team, they are frustrating mentally and it is sometimes it is a lonely place to be if you are hurt. For her to have a couple of big surgeries early in her career it is going to test how strong she is, it is going to test her love of the game. I am not one of those people who is going to feel sorry for somebody else, more than anything as a teammates your role is to encourage and help them get over whatever obstacle is in front of them. She is a strong individual and this will be another test for her. It is unfortunate because when you are at the stage of your career that she is, usually you get to see some improvement and some growth. It is tough but look at (Tamika) Catchings, are you kidding me, she is like Adrian Peterson."

As for Jones, injuries have taken their toll on her in recent years so there have been stretches where the Sun practiced or played without her for extended stretches.

"We didn't have Asjha half the year last year so we kind of know how to need to play without her on the court, we didn't have her in a lot of practices in the last three years really but when we play and get down to the tight situations, she has a great understanding and feel for the game," Lawson said. "She knows how to play basketball and obviously her skill set and ability to hit the outside shot is something we didn't have with great proficiency from other post players in terms of what we could do, plays we could run out of a pick and roll or put her on different spots on the court because they had to guard her because of that ability.

"That could shrink the court in some respects with different things, I feel like you can sit here and talk about it all the time, Players who are healthy will be there and the ones who are not will not. I don't want to sound callous about it but it is the way it is."


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