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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, November 08, 2013

UConn starting to get defensive

It was hard to gauge just how good of a defensive team UConn is at the current time off the two exhibition game since the Huskies demolished a pair of overmatched Division II teams. However, seeing how happy Geno Auriemma was during yesterday's practice as he worked on trapping and other defensive concepts gave me a sense that this could be a pretty impressive defensive team.

"I think we have a chance to be a pretty good defensive team," Auriemma said. "I think every year our defense is going to be one of the if not our biggest strength. There are a lot of factors, a lot of components that makes teams good defensive teams and I think we have the right components in terms of people and now we just have to make sure we do all the things that make teams really good defensive teams. We are better than we were the first week of practice, that is for sure."

With shot blockers like Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Kiah Stokes to protect the basket and aggressive athletic guards like Bria Hartley, Moriah Jefferson, Brianna Banks and Saniya Chong to apply ball pressure the pieces are in place for the Huskies to wreak havoc on teams this season.

"It is a fine line of how much can we extend our pressure given that the next two guards, one didn't play (the final 18 games) last year and the other one is a freshman," Auriemma said. "It is a fine line. We have to find that right balance for us, how much pressure can we put for it and how much do we need to be careful. With the new rules and the way people are going (to call fouls).

"I am replacing a fifth-year senior (Caroline Doty) and Kelly Faris. Kelly was a great defender and now we have to try to get whoever is in that spot, K (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis) for sure, can she potentially be as good a defender as Kelly? I don't know, she is athletic enough, she is big enough, she is strong enough. Can Moriah be a better defender than Caroline, you would think. She doesn't have the experience that Caroline, we are pretty long in the back and we have quickness in the front. The other components, ball pressure, contain the guys who are driving, those two things are hard to do."

Although replacing Faris, one of the best defensive players ever to play at UConn, will be no easy task Auriemma is not alone in his optimism.

"We have done a tremendous job on defense in practice and at our exhibition games," UConn senior center Stefanie Dolson said. "I know we have a great team as long as we are talking constantly, always being alert of where we are defensively.

"Having the bigs in the back gives the guards the ability to pressure the ball, if they get beat it is not going to be an automatic layup. We have trust in them and they have trust in us that they are not going to foul and they can keep guys in front of them and they trust us that we are going to block the shot. It is all about trust and communication and that is what we have."

Two encouraging signs have been how fluid and aggressive Banks looks following her long road of recovery from a torn ACL and the way Stokes seems to be producing on a more regular basis.

Stokes was outstanding in the second half of the final preseason game and did some good things in practice.

"She's been doing that every day, blocking shots, getting rebounds, talking so it is what we need from her right now," Dolson said.

The biggest sign of growth in Stokes is that Auriemma is really getting after her in practice. There were times when Auriemma got so frustrated with Stokes during her first two seasons that he wouldn't even bother criticizing her in practice but that is clearly not the case any longer.

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