Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

UConn turning up the heat on defense

There's been plenty of attention paid to the shot-blocking prowess of Breanna Stewart, Kiah Stokes and Stefanie Dolson who became the first trio of UConn teammates to block 50 shots in the same season.

However, the Huskies have also picked thing up in a different defensive category.

UConn had 20 steals in last night's win over Memphis marking the second time in the last four games that the Huskies hit the 20-steal mark. How rare is that? Well, I started going back through the season by season statistics and I found two games in the previous 10 season in which UConn registered at least 20 steals. It's rather ironic that they both happened to occur against Hofstra as UConn stole the ball 22 times in a Nov. 27, 2009 game and 23 times on Dec. 22, 2005.

For whatever reason, over the years the steals numbers haven't been tracked with the same amount of energy as blocks, assists, rebounds or steals. There were mistakes in both the single-game steals record and one of the two games listed as having the most steals in program history but you have to go back to 2000 and 2001 to find the last time UConn recorded the number of steals that came up with against Temple and Memphis.

The team record of 27 steals came against Holy Cross on Dec. 7, 2000. UConn had at least 20 steals five times in the 2000 calendar year and did it again against Providence in 2001.

It just so happened that at the last practice the media attended, the drill we got watch was one when UConn's guards were asked to pressure the ball, jump into the passing lanes and come up with deflections and steals so perhaps these steals numbers should come as a huge surprise.

"We really worked om that all week and it was really good to see something that we worked on translate into the game because sometimes that doesn't always happen," said UConn senior guard Bria Hartley, one of 14 players in program history with at least 200 career steals.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that the presence of three outstanding shot blockers has led to him asking his guards to be more aggressive out top. Nobody has taken that to heart any more than Moriah Jefferson who had nine steals against Memphis, one shy of the single-game UConn record.

"We talked about ball pressure and forcing turnovers and all that stuff," Auriemma said. "If you want to be a great (defensive) team you have to be able to do one of two things, when you pass it you have to steal it or when they shoot it, you have to block their shot., If you can't do one or both of those things it is hard to be a great team and we are fortunate that we are in a scenario where we can do a little bit of both of those things.

"When Dee and those guys were here, we didn't take any chances, we stood there, guarded you at the 3-point line and didn't let you dribble by us so we didn't have anybody blocking shots because we didn't have a shot blocker now we are blocking shots like crazy, guys go by us so those guys should thank me for their 50 blocked shots because we are playing a defense that helps them."

SPECIAL EVENT AT YALE
I know this doesn't involve UConn but in my days covering the Yale football team one of the off the field events that I devoted the most attention to was the annual bone marrow drive.

The event began as a way for former Yale women's hockey star Mandi Schwartz and her teammates to try to use her fight against leukemia to help others. There have been more than 4,000 new names added to the national bone marrow donor database and this year's event will be held on Apr. 17. However, tomorrow will be a special day in memory of Schwartz, who passed away on Apr. 3, 2011. Her brother Jaden is a standout winger for the St. Louis Blue and the entire Blues team will be in New Haven. They will hold an open practice at 3 p.m. at Ingalls Rink and then Jaden will help with the ceremonially puck drop before the Yale/Brown women's hockey game at 7 p.m.

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