Former UConn assistant Cardoza not shocked that Huskies are still undefeated
Yes, Temple coach Tonya Cardoza would stand alone in meeting those parameters so who is more qualified to weigh in on how the Huskies have rolled right along even after the graduation of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck?
I caught an early train to Philadelphia in large part so I could catch up with Temple junior Tanaya Atkinson of New Haven (who will be the subject of my advance for tomorrow's UConn/Temple game) and spent some time with Cardoza as well who many of you probably know was Virginia's leading scorer with 16 points in a win over UConn in the 1991 Final Four and then was an assistant coach on UConn's first five national championship teams.
At American Athletic Conference media day, Cardoza said she didn't expect to see the Huskies being brought back to the pack as many as many of her peers were predicting. Cardoza's prediction is looking pretty good these days as UConn is the last of the undefeated women's Division I teams with victories over No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 Maryland, No. 6 Florida State, No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 12 Texas, No. 14 Ohio State, No. 17 DePaul and No. 20 South Florida.
"People were saying, 'they are losing the Big 3 and obviously they have a great recruiting class coming in (next year headlined by Megan Walker),' Cardoza said before Tuesday's practice. "I'm like, 'that means nothing. He knows what to do and how to get his players ready.' Sure enough they are undefeated at this point beating everybody in the top 25. It is a credit to him and his staff but more importantly his players putting in the time and effort. Most of these kids on the team were role players on the team last year, they had to sit and play their role. Now they are asked to step up and be the superstars and that is what they do.
"I watched us play them last year and I am watching (Katie Lou) Samuelson miss wide open shot after wide open shot and we are leaving her open. Well, there is no way you leave her open this year. Same with Gabby (Williams), she just played a role where she came in and worked hard. Now she is dominating games on both sides of the basketball. Napheesa (Collier), you didn't even know who she was last year and it is just a credit to them. I know they spent all summer working on their game because you could totally tell. It is credit to Geno, I am sure he put the pressure on all of them, 'everybody thinks this is the year' and sure enough they turned it into something you certainly didn't expect if you were from the outside world."
Cardoza is impressed at how the Huskies starting five can interchange positions on both offense and defense at the snap of a finger.
"Their starting five, any one of them can play any position, any one of them can handle the basketball that is what makes them even better this year is because of their athleticism," Cardoza said. "Napheesa and Gabby both being so long and being able to sit down and guard a guard, that makes it really difficult than any one of them can take you into the post and post up. The most important this is they make shots, they shoot a high percentage every single one of them, they don't miss open shots. You have to take care of the basketball, they are long and athletic and you have to take care of the basketball. You have to make sure you don't let them get out into transition because that is where they kill you.
"They are running the same offense, same situations but they are same UConn. There is nothing different about them and there is no drop off. You lose three (high) caliber players like they did and there is no drop off.
"This is the mastermind, he knows how to motivate, how to get the most out of his players and who he is recruiting. They wouldn't be on his team if he didn't think they had the potential to step up and do that."
Speaking of Cardoza, she recently passed former college teammate Dawn Staley to become all time winningest coach in Temple women's basketball history.
Staley was among the first people to reach out and offer her congratulations.
"I got messages from a lot of people but especially from her just kidding me about it," Cardoza said. "Obviously it is a big deal because you know she set the bar. Dawn is an amazing coach and she built this program. The fact that we were able to break the record, it is a players, the coaches putting in the time and effort and having some pretty good teams. It is a big deal but one day it will get broken too."