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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thoughts after UConn's loss to Stanford

I know there are UConn fans despondent right now because the Huskies return home with a loss, albeit a hard-fought one. But for me, this was a lot of fun very reminiscent of some of the classic UConn-Tennessee games.

In men's basketball if the No. 1 team went on the road and lost in overtime to the No. 6 team, a program perennially in the Final Four, it would barely cause a raised eyebrow. However, with the methodical way UConn dismantles even top 10 teams both at home and on the road the expectation is that the Huskies were going to win this game by 25.

The best thing about this game is that more lessons will be learned than in 20 of the 104-55 games the Huskies are sure to play this season. Each player will be able to look at what transpired and see what could have been done better. The ones who didn't make an appearance need to practice in such a fashion that they become rotation players in the upcoming big games.

If there were three stars like in hockey I would go:
1. Tara VanDerveer whose defensive game plan was brilliant of shadowing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with Karlie Samuelson, who had the length to contest her shots, and then allow the frontcourt players in the game to collapse on Breanna Stewart whenever she got the ball in the lane.
2. Lili Thompson. The sophomore guard was spectacular. She had 24 points but it felt more like 44. She made so many key plays and fearlessly attacked the rim.
3. Karlie Samuelson. The sophomore didn't start but played 40 minutes. Her line of eight points, five rebounds, two assists and one steal may not blow anybody away but I wouldn't have thought she could have checked Mosqueda-Lewis as well as she did. Of course some of that falls onto Mosqueda-Lewis for allowing herself to be slowed down as much as she was.

There was a lot made of Chiney Ogwumike's graduation forcing Stanford players to have different roles. However, the departures of Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley were clearly felt by the Huskies. Other than Stewart and Mosqueda-Lewis, every other UConn player has a different role this season. Moriah Jefferson and Kiah Stokes are now being asked to be more of offensive threats than they were a season ago when it didn't matter whether they made a shot. Morgan Tuck missed the second half of the season due to her knee issues while Saniya Chong was rarely used in the games against ranked opponents in the second half of last season.

Chong did what she could to become a secondary scorer as she finished with a career-high 20 points, Tuck had it going late in the second half and in overtime before she fouled out and Nurse had some nice moments as well. But the reality is that when UConn needed shots to take some of the pressure off of Stewart, they weren't being made.

"They had a really great game plan which I am sure everybody else is going to copy, put three guys on Stewie and let everybody else shoot," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Nobody else wanted to make a shot except Saniya (Chong)."

Even with six of the seven UConn players who got into the game missing more shots than they made, UConn was in position to snap Stanford's 27-game home winning streak.
Mosqueda-Lewis, who tied a program record by sinking 10 3-pointers in a season-opening win over UC Davis on Friday, got free to hit her second and final trey to put the Huskies up by seven with 3:37 to play. The Huskies would make just one more field goal in rest of the second half to give Stanford a chance to steal the game.
Tuck grabbed the missed front end of a 1 and 1 by Jefferson to draw a foul and she made both free throws to put the Huskies up by three with 11.8 seconds left. On the ensuing possession UConn was so concerned about keeping Bonnie Samuelson from taking a 3 that they left Amber Orrange open. Orrange's 3-pointer was dead, solid perfect to force overtime.
"We ran a play for Bonnie, when she got the ball everybody kind of snuck over to her," Orrange said. "I was surprisingly calm when I took the shot."
On the other side of things, UConn Geno Auriemma immediately questioned his decision not to commit a foul which would have prevented Stanford from tying the game.
"Don't remind me of that," Auriemma said. "That is just inexcusable. I keep going back and forth, should I, should I and so far I haven't made the right decision very often. The kid makes a really, really tough shot."

The reality is that Orrange had a wide open 3 and I would think that in the chaos of everything that happened he was thinking about Orrange's tough runner in the lane in overtime and not the game-tying 3.
Three times in overtime UConn (1-1) had a three-point lead. But once Morgan Tuck fouled out with 3:23 left to play, the Huskies lost one of the performers making the most impact late in the second half and in overtime.
It didn't help matters that Stewart attempted just one shot in overtime. The only shot UConn made in the final 2 1/2 minutes was a layup by Chong when a 3-pointer was needed.
The game ended with seniors Mosqueda-Lewis and Stokes in the backcourt and Mosqueda-Lewis not even attempting a desperation heave at the buzzer.
"I am frustrated because there are things you wish you could have done better," said Stewart, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds. "My free throws were awful. After the coaches came in we talking about and pointed out that things have to change. This is not going to be one of those Connecticut teams as super successful if we don't change what we are doing now."
It should be noted that while UConn has won five national championships with perfect records, four other times there have been losses the Huskies suffered that have toughened them up. Time will tell if that is what happens with this group.

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