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UConn Women’s Basketball Notebook: Replacing production, fun with friends, a big streak on the line

Also, an inside look at what Geno’s looking out for in the season opener, banter with two former players and one incredible streak.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

For much of the preseason, Geno Auriemma has talked about needing to replace the 40 points per game that Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson contributed nearly every night for UConn last season.

Year-to-year turnover is part of life in college basketball, something Geno has navigated quite well over the years. While Collier and Samuelson are certainly gigantic losses, UConn doesn’t need to replace the players. It needs to replace the production.

So exactly how much of a void are the Huskies trying to fill? Let’s look at the numbers.

Last year (the 2018-19 season), the two seniors along with Mikayla Coombs, who transferred to Georgia, combined to score 1,450 points — 46 percent of the team’s scoring. They also accounted for 43 percent of its rebounds and 39 percent of the assists.

Those numbers are certainly high percentages but its not uncharted territory for UConn. In fact, the last time the Huskies needed to replace that volume of production was... last year. After losing Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams, Azura Stevens and Andra Espinoza-Hunter, UConn was left without 44 percent of its points, 44 percent of rebounds and 43 percent of assists from the year before. Two years earlier, they were looking for answers to replace a senior class that won four championships and was picked with the top three selections in the WNBA Draft.

Here’s how some of those notable seasons went down:

  • 2016-17: Entering the first year of the post-Breanna Stewart Era, it was hard enough for UConn to replace that amazing class. The Huskies also needed to fill the void of 51 percent of points, 41 percent of rebounds and an incredible 60 percent of its assists. They ended up in the Final Four.
  • 2011-12: Another end of an era, this time that of Maya Moore. Without her, Lorin Dixon or Samarie Walker (who left midseason), the Huskies lost 37 percent of their scoring, 28 percent of rebounds and 35 percent of assists. This team also made the Final Four.
  • 2010-11: With Tina Charles, Jacquie Fernandes, Meghan Gardler, Kalana Greene and Kaili McLaren, out went 46 percent of points, 48 percent of rebounds and 28 percent of rebounds. This team made the Final Four as well.
  • 2004-05: When Diana Taurasi, Maria Conlon and Morgan Valley rode off into the sunset with a national championship to cap their college careers, so too with them went 32 percent of the points, 23 percent of rebounds and 47 percent of assists. This year’s squad bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet Sixteen.
  • 2002-03: If this doesn’t show the greatness of Taurasi, nothing does. The Huskies lost Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Ashja Jones and Tamika Williams. That left a hole of 60 percent of points, 54 percent of rebounds and 51 percent of assists. Despite all that, UConn went 37-1 and won the national championship.

Obviously, stats don’t tell the whole story. They don’t account for leadership, toughness, ability to play in big moments, etc. But in strictly basketball production terms, it’s one way to measure just how much UConn is looking for its younger players to step up.

Auriemma anxious to start

For most people who follow UConn — whether it be as a fan, in the media or just as a casual observer — the start of a new season is always exciting. There’s so much unknown — how much has this player improved? Will this be the breakout year for her? How good are the freshmen?

Geno Auriemma is no different.

“Sunday will be a great day because it’s what [the players] have been waiting for since last season,” he said. “I think they’re in the same situation I’m in. I think they’re excited to see what it looks like. The not knowing, we don’t know what we have and because we don’t know what we have, it’s exciting. It’s not like ho-hum, we know exactly what’s going to happen Sunday. We really don’t. So it’s really good. It’s good for them, good for me, good for everybody.”

Amidst all the excitement, what’s Auriemma himself looking for in the opener?

“Are we game ready? Are we the kind of guys that know the difference between games and practice? Some guys are good in games, they’re anxious for that. Some guys are not good in games,” he said.

“I’m anxious to see what happens when Crystal’s not on the floor. That’s going to be a huge part of our growth. Can we function when Crystal’s not in the game? Right now that’s a big worry, that’s a huge concern. That’s probably the biggest concern that I have right now is when Crystal’s not in the game, do we have the ability to run our offense, to be organized, to know what shot we’re getting, to look cohesive? That’s going to be a big concern for me.”

Geno vs. Stewie & KML

When Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis came to Storrs this past week to workout, they obviously made sure to spend some time with their coach away from the gym. While they were hanging out at his house, Auriemma fell asleep in his chair and naturally, they took the opportunity to poke some fun at him.

Auriemma wasn’t about to take that disrespect sitting down.

“You know why (I fell asleep)? Because they’re boring. Seriously, we were watching the football game and they sit there and they’re really dull. Actually, I think Kathy (Geno’s wife) and I were both asleep. Seriously. They’re boring. They lead boring lives, they’re just boring people. If they were exciting, I’d be awake listening to what they had to say. But they’re dull.”

Fun with Numbers

  • With a win over Cal, UConn can extend its incredible streak of games without consecutive losses to 923. That dates back to March 17, 1993 when the Huskies lost to Louisville in the first game of the NCAA Tournament after bowing out to Providence in the Big East Tournament. That’s 9,734 days. In 2014, we took a look at what the world was like back then. (h/t Carl Adamec)
  • For the first time since the 2007-08 season, UConn will begin the year without a national champion on its roster.
  • Series history: The Huskies are 5-1 all-time against Cal with the one loss coming in 1991. However, the Golden Bears gave UConn a scare last season in Berkeley by getting within six late in the fourth quarter before the Huskies made their free throws and ultimately hung on for the 76-66 victory.