This season, much has been made about UConn women’s basketball’s bench. It’s a topic that’s been asked and talked about ad nauseam. And with conference play starting, that means more frequent blowouts for the Huskies and in turn, more chances for the reserves — in theory.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit trying to figure out where to go with [using the bench],” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We’re in a little bit of a conundrum so to speak. We have guys that need to play, and I know that. When they play, they don’t play the way I expect them to play. And if I keep playing them, they think playing like that is okay. And then if I don’t play them, then I’m not giving them an opportunity to get better. It’s a fine line.”
He isn’t expecting any of them to be superstars off the bench. They don’t even need to be good, even. They just need to be a net-zero.
“I don’t know if they’re ever going to score a lot of points but we don’t need them to score a lot of points,” Auriemma said. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t help our team when they come in the game. We just need them to the point where they understand they can’t hurt us.”
As he’s mentioned before this season, he doesn’t want to it to be the starters as a “first team” and the bench as a “second team.” Instead, Auriemma wants more of a mix so that the starters can better support the reserves and help them succeed on the floor instead of the bench players trying to figure it out on their own.
“If we have too many of those guys on the court, it won’t look very good so we have to space it out,” he said. “Bottom line is it’s going to be our five starters and then mix and match off the bench, one or two guys and hopefully we can get some crucial minutes from them.”
However, late in big blowouts, like against Cincinnati, it’s hard to justify keeping the starters in for most of the game. But with only nine players total on the team, one of the starters is going to have the play with the reserves in garbage time. Right now, Auriemma likes having senior Katie Lou Samuelson in there.
“Lou’s our backup point guard and our backup forward. And our starting whatever,” he said. “She can fill a lot of different spots and help them navigate where they need to be, more than anyone else can. So I like having her out there with them.”
It’s a role that Samuelson embraces as well.
“I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on and I have a pretty good idea of what other people on the team can do,” she said. “When they’re in they can be in a spot that I normally play, I can go to the other one because it might be better for them to be in that original spot. Recognizing that and understanding what I can do to help has been a big thing for me to figure out this year as a senior.”
As good as Samuelson and the other four starters are, they can’t carry this team completely by themselves. If the Huskies have hope of raising their 12th banner, they’ll need somebody to step up off the bench. Luckily, conference play has only just begun, so they have plenty of games left to experiment.