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UConn women - A time for deep breaths

POSTED February 11, 2020
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

               Okay, take a deep breath. Maybe a couple if needed. Take a walk, find a valium. Find something to occupy your time. Therapy maybe? Whatever you do, relax.

               This is new territory for UConn women’s basketball fans. Losses have been rare in recent years. Losing three games in a space of a month, two of them at home, all of them by double digits.  That’s investigation worthy.

               First it was Baylor, 74-58, at the XL Center. Then it was Oregon, 74-56, at Gampel Pavilion. Monday night it was South Carolina, a 70-52 humbling on the road. Huskie nation is in a tizzy or something like that.

               So let’s look at a couple of things and remember take a deep breath. First of all, some more credit to the opposition, please. Too often it’s all about UConn and too little about the opposition.

               South Carolina is the No. 1 team in the country with one loss. Baylor is the defending national champion with one loss. Oregon is coming off a Final Four year with two losses. Between the three teams they have combined record of 63-4. And you know what, they are all better than UConn this year.

               Several years ago when UConn was whipping up on the universe, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, “It’s not our job to get worse, it’s their (the rest of the country) job to get better.” Guess what they have gotten better.

               Notre Dame is having a down year (it does happen) but Muffet McGraw usually has them in contention every season with a title two seasons ago.  Kim Mulkey and her Baylor have a last year’s crown and are there every year now. Coach Kelly Graves has Oregon there in recent years and has the best player in the country this year in Sabrina Ionescu. Jeff Walz and Louisville have been in constant contention for a decade now.

               So many have met Geno’s challenge. Geno also said a while back that this isn’t going to last forever. Unbeaten seasons, incredible winning streaks, national titles by the  handful. There was an element of truth to it all. Nobody gets to sit on the mountaintop forever. Not the Celtics, Yankees, Roger Federer or Tiger Woods. Well, maybe the Beatles but other than that…..

               This season was going to be a bigger test than most, that was a given. Some recruits got away, Katie Lou Samuelson and Nepheesa Collier graduated, a lack of size and UConn was left talented and young. This is more about other teams being better than any sense of UConn underperforming.

               And let’s remember in all of this deep breath territory, UConn is still 20-3. Not UConn numbers but not 13-10 either.  There is still a month of the season to go and  highly touted recruits coming in. So deep six the drastic thoughts. Is there reason for high frustration? No question. The losses probably would have come even if the Huskies had played better, but it would be nice to know. And the  authoritative way the Huskies have been handled rankles deeply.

               Geno fired away at the critics after Monday night’s loss to South Carolina.

               “I have to say we’re allowed to lose a god-dam game once in a while where the other team plays better than us,” he said. “How about you write that somewhere. South Carolina played way better than Connecticut. That’s allowed to happen once in a while.”

               Indeed, but while the Huskies didn’t lose track of Baylor until the fourth quarter, Oregon and South Carolina put the Huskies away early and there was no recovery. When UConn fans are getting excited because they have cut the deficit to 12 or 14 points, it is an issue.

               Two points on 1-of-16 shooting in the first quarter from the No. 5 team in the nation? If it wasn’t for a fastbreak layup the Huskies may have been bagled. Another night where shooting percentage was below 40 percent.

               Bad games happen but there is a trend here and the most concerning part of it all is the absence of anybody other Crystal Dangerfield to step up. The 5-foot-5 guard has been a savior for respectability and was outstanding with 25 points against South Carolina but as for anybody else, get you binoculars out and even then your sight is going to come up empty. Big games have hardly been greeted by big performances.

               In the three losses, Megan Walker is averaging 12 points on 13-for-47 shooting (28 percent) including a 5-for-20 performance against Baylor. What has happened to sophomore Christyn Williams? A terrific talent her shooting has been off most of the season and she is averaging 10.3 points in the losses while shooting 12-for-38, including a five-point, 2-for-12 effort against South Carolina. Sophomore center Olivia Nelson-Ododa continues to struggle at times. It just isn’t enough.

               “We’re not able to win these kinds of games with one person playing great,” said Auriemma.

               It is a disconcerting question but can the Huskies play with the big girls? How good is UConn? Maybe what we see is what we get.Good enough to beat who they should and most of the teams, not good enough to beat the top five or six teams.  You have to believe they are capable of getting closer. They have a month to show us different before the NCAA Tournament. Maybe somebody will step up. Right now we know they are not good enough.

               But it’s more about frustration than panic. In the big picture and down the road they will be fine. Deep breaths, remember.

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