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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jefferson's D sparks UConn yet again

There are players who don't have as many highlight-reel caliber plays in a season as UConn junior guard Moriah Jefferson had last night.

There was the shake and bake, setting up the defender to stop her from driving right only to have her explode to the basket with a left-handed drive. Or the time when UConn was in danger of letting South Carolina get back into the game early in the second half when she split two defenders while covering the ball with both forearms before spinning the ball into the basket with such skill that I am sure there were pool sharks who would love to have that tender touch. Then there was the time she grabbed a loose ball in the backcourt and went from 0-60 in record time as she raced in for another layup.

Four of her assists came on Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis 3-pointers with two of them being enough of the back-breaking variety that South Carolina coach Dawn Staley immediately called for a timeout. Of course there was the game-opening 3-pointer of her own. Then who could forget that after made a basket, she raced down the court, deflected a pass out of bounds before leaping over the scorer's table.

However, none of those are the images of Jefferson I will remember the most from the emphatic win over South Carolina. It came when a frustrated Tiffany Mitchell twice swatted at Jefferson's arm as if she was trying to keep a mosquito from bothering her at a summer picnic. There were so many determining factors in the 25-point win but the way Jefferson helped shut down Mitchell has to be near the top of the list. There were so many stretches when she didn't get the ball in position to shoot and that was a result of Jefferson's pesky defense.

Jefferson opened defensively on opposing point guard Khadijah Sessions with Kia Nurse getting the call on Mitchell. On the Gamecocks' first offensive possession, there was a miscommunication between Nurse and Morgan Tuck after a screen was set near the top of the key. The result was neither player went with Mitchell and the reigning SEC Player of the Year was left all alone. I'm pretty sure leaving Mitchell unguarded wasn't part of the game plan. Before the game was 5 minutes old, Jefferson was switched onto Mitchell, chased her around the court, faceguarded her and would be just physical enough not to be called for fouls. The result was that Mitchell, who other than Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd rivals any other guard I have seen play against UConn this season, did not make any of her six field goals while Jefferson was on her.

"Defense is probably one of my favorite things to do so anytime you can get up on them and frustrate them, it is fun," Jefferson said.

"I wanted to make it difficult for Tiffany Mitchell to get those shots off. After that my teammates did a good job of boxing out, rebounding and we got out in transition."

I went back and looked at how Mitchell, who finished with 17 points while going 6 of 12 from the field got her shots.

She started off my taking three shots in the opening 2:49 with the only one she missed was on the possession when she wasn't guarded. After that opening flurry she did not attempt another shot for the next 4:55 and attempted just one shot in the final 9 1/2 minutes of the first half. She started quickly again in the second half with two shots in the first 3:11 but then had three separate stretches when she went more than four minutes without shooting the ball.

I found the breakdown of who was on her when she attempted her shots interesting and for those wondering why Jefferson didn't just play her on every possession the rest of the game, there were times when she did but South Carolina is a very good screening team so it forced UConn to switch on the fly.

MISSED FG: Lost in half-court set, Kia Nurse and Morgan Tuck ran at her late
MADE FG: Made transition layup over Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
MADE 3-POINTER: Kia Nurse late getting hand up
3-POINT PLAY: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis failed to take away baseline, Mitchell hit reverse layup, was fouled and made FT to give South Carolina 18-15 lead.
BLOCKED SHOT: Guarded by Jefferson, shot blocked by Breanna Stewart
MISSED FG: Mosqueda-Lewis guarded her after switching on screen
MADE 3-POINTER: Mosqueda-Lewis late getting out on her after switching on screen

MADE FG: Hit jumper over Nurse
MISSED FG: Morgan Tuck was primary defender, Stewart came over to bother the shot
MISSED FG: 3 different players converged on her in transition
FOULED ON SHOT: Breanna Stewart picked up foul, she made 1 of 2 from line
MADE 3-POINTER: Kiah Stokes came out a little late
MISSED FIELD GOAL: Stewart's length led to air ball

Clearly other than Mitchell UConn was OK giving up looks from the perimeter. They would take their larger guards like Mosqueda-Lewis and Kia Nurse and have them try to clog up the lane and keep the larger Gamecocks from isolating UConn's post players in the low blocks. It worked as UConn outscored South Carolina 40-34 and more importantly, neither Stewart nor Tuck had to come to the bench due to foul trouble. It also enabled Mosqueda-Lewis to come up with half of the Huskies' eight steals.


Anonymous Joe said...

It was quite intriguing to watch Jefferson faceguard Mitchell during the game. Moriah would have her back to the ball and totally ignore the rest of the play, facing Mitchell the entire time. I saw Mitchell push her away several times.

That adjustment by Geno changed the flow of the game. Staley needed to make a counter-adjustment and never quite got there.

I saw that they tried to run a few double-screens for Mitchell, but even when they brushed Moriah away for a few moments, the offense was not in a position to deliver the ball, and soon enough Moriah was right back next to Mitchell again.

8:31 AM 
Blogger Stephen said...

Loved your opening line.

It is, of course, a tribute to Mitchell that you can talk about effective defense on a player who scored 17 points. I did catch your point that there weren't many when Moriah was guarding her. I was at the game, but now am re-watching the DVR. I made a point of focusing on Moriah, and saw her sticking to Mitchell like glue. You could see Mitchell's frustration as she had Moriah, not just guarding, but inches away for long stretches. Moriah seemed almost uninterested in the rest of the players; she effectively made it a four on four game.


10:18 AM 

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