This year’s UConn women’s basketball team doesn’t have the prototypical size of a contender. For most teams, that’s not a good thing. For the UConn Huskies, it’s an opportunity to find another way to dominate the competition.
“We have five guards on the floor. Well four and half, Napheesa’s not really a guard,” said head coach Geno Auriemma. “Relatively speaking she’s a good passer. The other guys are just really good passers.”
UConn’s passing prowess has become a staple of the program.
“There's a lot of times when I'm watching film where the offense created a great opportunity but the passer couldn't find them,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. “But UConn teams, year in and year out, they pass the ball so well that they make their unit better than the sum total of their parts.”
UConn and UCLA will meet at 2 p.m. in Sweet 16 action at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
The golden standard for Auriemma remains the 2013-2014 squad, and for good reason. They finished the season a perfect 40-0, the most wins in program history and earned the program’s ninth national championship.
“When we had Stefanie Dolson in the middle of our offense with Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, then we added Stewie and Tuck and that group, that was a pretty amazing team,” Auriemma said. “When your center can facilitate your offense, that just makes the other guys really great passers.”
This year’s team doesn’t rank too far behind, though. Instead of Stephanie Dolson in the middle, they have Gabby Williams. The junior lead the team with 5.3 assists-per-game and totaled nearly 50 more dimes than the next player.
“When your center is the fastest guy out there and is a tremendous ball handler, that’s really tough on the other team,” said Auriemma about Williams.
With a facilitator like Williams in the middle, this year’s team has quickly ascended to one of the best group of passers in Auriemma’s tenure.
“It’s as good as any we’ve had,” said the coach. “They really play well together and they enjoy being on the floor together. They look for each other.
“There’s a lot of people that are good passers but aren’t willing passers. We’ve got guys that are pretty good passers and they’re willing.”
Their ability to find the open player has been key to offsetting the losses of Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck. They don’t need to rely on the big star. Instead, all five players can take over on any given night.
“There's not this go-to player -- like ‘We're going to run this play and we're going to go get Stewie a touch here and that's the end of it’,” said Close. “It's all these different players making plays at different times.”
That superstar may be gone, but the Huskies haven’t skipped a beat. Once again, they’re undefeated and in the Sweet Sixteen for the 14th-straight season.