Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Auriemma looking for more from UConn role players

It was a familiar case of characters heading over from Gampel Pavilion to the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center for the media availability portion of yesterday's practice with one exception.

There was a cameraman there to get some footage of reigning national player of the year Breanna Stewart during practice. There was a slight problem with that plan as Stewart never stepped foot on the court during the 20-30 minutes when the media was able to watch practice. It was nothing Stewart did that led to her standing underneath the basket for the latter portion of practice. Actually, it was completely the opposite. Auriemma felt like he could have gotten more from the younger UConn players leading into Monday's showdown at South Carolina. As a result, sophomores Natalie Butler and Courtney Ekmark teamed with freshmen Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson during a 4 on 4 defensive drill.

Possession after possession Auriemma stood up against a wall next to assistant coach Shea Ralph and watched them struggle to keep a team consisting of three male practice players and either Tierney Lawlor or Briana Pulido from scoring.

There must of have 15-20 straight possessions where Auriemma said little. As time wore on, however, he became more vocal. He made sure the four players know that 1 on 1 defensive drills are not his thing. If a basket was scored by the other team, it was a failure for all four of them and not just the person who gave up the basket. Auriemma drove home the point that trust needs to be earned and it is on this very court where that takes place. Other than racing onto the court after a hustling Collier dove on a loose ball, Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck did not take part in the practice that the media was able to see. It was Auriemma at his demanding best. He ran similar drills when Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck were freshmen and will likely do so with future freshman classes. It was further illustration of why the Huskies have won 60 straight games. Rather than rest of their laurels after a 12-point win on the road against second-ranked South Carolina, Auriemma was pushing his players to try to do more.

"Guys have kind of showed me 'this is what I am,'" Auriemma said. "I don't know that in a month you are going to change that but I told them I would them all an opportunity to make them part of the mix but it is going to up to them to prove to me and some of the other players that they can be trusted in those big game situations.

"It is not about winning, it is more about how can you do something to help us win, what can you do, what will your part be in this. Well Coach, I just want to sit on the bench and watch. 'OK, we can accommodate that.' Or 'Coach, I want to contribute more, who do I do that?' Well, you do this, this and this. OK, 'let's go today starting at practice and then you see  where it takes you.' It is not a situation where I said 'guys, I talked to Stewie and Moriah and they said they don't want to play 40 minutes anymore, you guys need to come out and play.' Hell, no. I talked to Stewie and Moriah and said you need to get those guys going here, you guys don't need to be playing 40 minutes every night. They go 'why not?' They didn't want to come out the other night so you think in the NCAA tournament when we have two games and a week off, two games and a week off that they are going to go 'I can't go 40 minutes?' Are you kidding me, if you try to take them out, they are liable to punch you.

"It is not about that, I just want those guys to be able to say 'I contributed. Coach, you can count on me to be this.' "

One of the things I noticed when that group of four players were on the court together was how vocal Samuelson was. She was the one said the most and when Auriemma challenged them all to act like they were successful when a defensive stop was made or to get annoyed when a basket was scored, it was Samuelson who did just that. She showed raw emotion when her team failed to prevent a basket and on the next possession initiated a series of celebratory high fives following a strong defensive showing.

"I think being out there, I just knew I was going to talk as much as I could and that group of four, we are kind of a quieter group especially the older girls are on (the sideline) so I knew I had to step up and try to be louder so I tried to do that," Samuelson said. "I know they tried to be more vocal to so it just kind of went together. I wasn't thinking 'oh, let me lead this group.' It was just I knew I needed to step up and talk a lot because it benefited this who group here and the older girls know they can trust me.

"I still have a long way to go I think (in being vocal on the court). Sometimes when I am play with Morgan, Stewie and Mo I sometimes can get a little quiet but I know I have to not be afraid to talk and use my voice because I need to do what I can to help them. I know in certain situations like I was just in, I tend to get louder so I need to consistently do that no matter who is in.

"He is definitely pushing all of us to step up and help in any way we can whether it is setting good screens, getting stops on defense, knocking in shots he needs to know that we can help and we can contribute. We can't just hide and hope they can it on their own because you never know what is going to happen with foul trouble and God forbid injury where every single person on this team is valuable."


Anonymous John B said...

Good stuff,Mr. Fuller.

6:25 PM 

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