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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is UConn's dominance a blessing or curse for rest of AAC

Over the years I have been able to see the positive side of UConn's blowout victories as the Huskies use those contests to lay the foundation for national-championship run.

However, since I also cover the UConn football team, I have seen a different side of the ledger. I've seen the confidence of a team and players damaged following a disappointing performance. With all of that being said I spent a decent amount of time at yesterday's American Athletic Conference women's basketball media day checking in with other coaches to see if there is a down side to having the nation's most dominant women's basketball program in the same conference.

Let's start with a look back at last year. With Louisville now in the ACC and Rutgers in the Big 12 UConn is one of eight returning teams from the inaugural AAC season and the margin of victory for the Huskies against its conference foes was a staggering 38 points.

"I think everybody understands that they are UConn and that is where you are trying to reach and get to that level so making sure your kids understand that there is a competition," said Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, a former UConn assistant coach. "So many years of being there so many teams would lose before they stepped on the floor because it was UConn now people are trying to get their kids to understand that just go out, compete and see what happens. Obviously he has done a great job getting talented players but hopefully that margin drops a little bit."

Although Memphis lost to UConn by 41 points, the Tigers led the Huskies for nearly 4 1/2 minutes when the teams met last season in Memphis and that is something that Tigers' coach Melissa McFerrin believes she can use in her team's growth.

"We don't wear it as a badge of honor but at the FedEx Forum with 12 minutes gone we held the lead," McFerrin said. "We have to take it as let's continue to grow those minutes.

"I think you go right at a team like UConn, you go straight at your team saying this team is going to run you off the court if you don't show up and play. I think for a short amount of time our team was able to react to that. They were excited, we were fired up and we were not trying to be cautious in the early part of that game, we were trying to play our game as well as UConn would let us do it."

Memphis lost in overtime in the next game but then won its next three games so the Tigers were able to not let the bitter taste of the blowout loss linger.

"You can't have emotional baggage in this game or this conference will chew you up and spit you up," McFerrin said. "You can't be fragile in this conference and you can't assume anything because any game you can either win big or get one put on you, get embarrassed."

Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott, a member of national-championship teams at UConn as a player and a coach, has a similar philosophy to McFerrin when it comes to the UConn games.

"I just look at small victories, we held Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart under 10 points, I believe in that game (actually Stewart had 12 points and Dolson seven in a 63-34 UConn win). If it wasn't under 10 it was way under their season average so that is a small victory we pointed out after the game or holding them under their points per game average so you look for little, different things. You don't go into games saying 'if you do this you are going to beat UConn.' We have offensive goals, defensive goals that we know is realistic to accomplish.

"I have been very fortunate, I don't know if my players get up extra for that game because of my affiliation with UConn but I have never had problem with their confidence going into the game or getting beat before the ball goes up and leaving the game like we lost everything we had tried to accomplish up to that point."

When the AAC preseason poll came out South Florida was picked to finish second and East Carolina came in at No. 3 so how do the coaches of those teams address the shadow that the Huskies figure to cast on the league this season.

"If I don't wake up every day with my goal being 'I want to beat Connecticut' I am doing my kids a disservice," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "You are chasing the dragon every day and I am going keep trying until I catch it. (The losses are)not because of how we are working recruiting wise or on the floor."

East Carolina will be introduced to life as a UConn opponent on New Year's Eve.
"Happy New Year," East Carolina coach Heather Macy said with a laugh. "UConn always has a great draw and look what they have built there. When I look at the job Geno has done there, it is something I respect and go wow, it is going to be a great opportunity for our fans and our players to experience. If you want to be a nationally recognized program, you better go ahead and play the top teams and see what that gap is. It is a really good measuring stick."

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