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UConn Women’s Basketball Post-game Notes: Irwin starts, a new ‘core four’ dominates scoring

The Huskies opened the season in less-than-spectacular fashion.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma shouts out instructions to his team as Christyn Williams looks on.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn women’s basketball opened the regular season with an underwhelming 72-61 win over the Cal Golden Bears. Head coach Geno Auriemma described it as a “weird” game, a word he used 11 times during his post-game press conference.

Here’s what stands out after one game:

Irwin starts

Things were weird before the ball even tipped off. When the starting lineups were posted, senior Kyla Irwin took the fifth spot in the lineup among the other expected starters: Crystal Dangerfield, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Megan Walker and Christyn Williams.

While Irwin started two games last season when Walker was out with strep throat, freshman Anna Makurat was the fifth starter in both of UConn’s exhibitions. After the game, Auriemma said he didn’t think Makurat was ready for the moment.

“I though Anna would cry if I started her so I tried to make her feel a little bit better,” he said. “She’s been in a daze the last couple days so I don’t know what’s going through her mind. I’m going to have a little talk with her tomorrow. She looked paler than pale, if that’s possible. It might be a little too much for her. I don’t know. I have to figure that one out.”

Auriemma felt Irwin was the safe option to give the start in Makurat’s place.

“Kyla knows what we’re doing out there. She’s going to make a good pass, she’s going to set a good screen, she’s going to be a complementary player,” he said. “She probably didn’t take any shots... Did she? I hope not.”

While Irwin was a starter, she saw the court the least among active Huskies. Fellow freshman Aubrey Griffin saw the most time off the bench with 19 minutes while Makurat played 18 minutes. Evelyn Adebayo and Molly Bent did not play.

Big four carry scoring load

UConn’s new core of Dangerfield, Nelson-Ododa, Walker and Williams was expected to carry the team this season and that was certainly the case on Sunday. While they dominated the scoring with 70 of the team’s 72 points, they also combined to take 62-of-65 shots.

While that number won’t be as high once players like Makurat and Griffin get their feet under them and become more comfortable in the offense, Auriemma doesn’t expect it to change too dramatically.

“I would say that the majority of the shots are going to go to those guys. They’re the guys that have played the most basketball here,” he said. “(The rest of the players) are complementary players. It’s exactly what they are. And sometimes being a complementary player means you don’t get any shots. You’re going to have to do other things...those four are going to take most of our shots and there’s no getting around. That’s not gonna change. It’s not like all of a sudden somebody’s going to step up there and take 15 shots other than those four guys, that’s not gonna happen.”

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Offensive struggles

While UConn’s offense typically relies on a lot of passing and off-ball movement, it was mostly stagnant against Cal. The Huskies couldn’t get out in transition much and were forced into playing half-court offense, something they clearly aren’t comfortable with yet.

The result? A lackluster offense performance that saw UConn score jut 71 points and only assist on 12 of its 27 baskets (44 percent), well below its 2018-19 season average of 64 percent. Dangerfield, the team’s point guard, only dished out only two assists. Those issues certainly weren’t lost on the players.

“Christyn came over to me at one point she said, ‘I’m not touching the ball.’ I said ‘No, you’re not. Nobody is except for the person who catches it,” Auriemma said. “We’re not moving, the ball is not moving. So nobody’s getting the chance to actually play basketball.”

Early in the game, the Huskies were forcing too many passes and shots. At one point, Dangerfield came over to Auriemma and suggested they stop running plays all together on offense.

“I go ‘Okay. Why not?” Auriemma said. “She goes ‘Not everybody knows them.’ I said okay. That’s what happens. Some days it just looks like that. When your point guard comes over and goes ‘I don’t think we should run any plays today,’ I think you better listen and start paying attention. So I did.”

Instead, Auriemma just gave his best scorers simple instructions:

“You, Megan, Christyn, just kind of get the ball and do your thing,” he told Dangerfield.

Stats

  • UConn won its 24th-straight season opener with the win over Cal.
  • The Huskies streak of games without consecutive losses is now up to 923, going back to the start of the 1993-94 season.

Quote of the Day

“It was just a weird game, man. It was weird. I sat there going, ‘This is weird.’” - Geno Auriemma