As a former Big East foe and one of the staples on UConn’s non-conference schedule, Doug Bruno’s DePaul Blue Devils are quite familiar to Geno Auriemma. And if the Huskies’ coach knows anything about what’ll happen on Monday night, it’s that he doesn’t know what’ll happen on Monday night.
“It’s impossible (to prepare for). It’s really impossible,” Auriemma said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to what they do. Like a lot of times you’ll say ‘Here’s the scouting report, they press 2-2-1 after a made free throw. They press 1-2-1-1 after a made basket or they three-quarter press.’ So what does DePaul do? I have no idea. Because they will press you all the time and any different ways and there’s nothing you can do to prepare for where it’s coming from, when it’s coming.”
The Blue Devils are going to make UConn earn every basket with a full-court press from the opening tip to the final buzzer. That not only pushes the Huskies’ stamina, it also puts on onus on the team’s ball-handling abilities outside Crystal Dangerfield.
“They’ll force [Dangerfield] to give it up,” Auriemma said. “So who she’s passing it to, that’s more important than what Crystal’s going to do. So where is the ball going to go and then what’s that person going to do with that? That is the big key.”
Offensively, DePaul plays at a torrid pace and launches the second-most threes in the nation. The Blue Demons want a track meet, so UConn’s focus will be on wrestling control of the pace and bringing it down.
“I don’t think we’re going to run,” Megan Walker said. “I don’t think we’re going to push it because they’re already a fast team, we don’t want to play too crazy.”
The Real MVPs
Not only does DePaul shoot a lot of threes, it also makes a ton — the second most in the country, to be specific. From one-to-five, the Blue Demons aren’t afraid to huck it up from beyond the arc which will put a lot of stress on UConn’s defense to stay tight on every player — something Geno Auriemma has drilled into his team’s collective skull.
“On the defensive end, we have to get out on their shooters or they’re going to blow us out. Coach has told us that multiple times this week,” Molly Bent relayed.
The Huskies aren’t short on three-point shooters of their own with Walker (.488), Crystal Dangerfield (.385) and Christyn Williams (.303) making over 30 percent from deep (min. 20 attempts). It’s also a good week to have Katie Lou Samuelson back at practice, who made the second-most three pointers in program history.
But the best scout team looks didn’t come from any current or former Huskies. Instead, they got a boost from the team’s practice players.
“We have a bunch of good shooters here on our practice squad,” Auriemma said. “It’s good because we could put a team out there with five guys that are all really good three-point shooters. It gives us an idea of there’s nobody you can actually play off. Nobody. You gotta guard them all.”
An Inside Scoop?
When former assistant coach Marisa Moseley left the program to take a head coaching gig at her alma mater BU, it didn’t take Auriemma long to identify her replacement. He picked up the phone and called Bruno to ask for permission to hire then-DePaul assistant Jasmine Lister. She spent two years as a graduate assistant with the Huskies before spending two more seasons as an assistant with Washington and the Blue Demons.
Since Lister became well-versed in Bruno’s zany style of play, it would seem like she’d be a great resource going into the game, right? Well, not so much.
“No, it doesn’t (help),” Auriemma said. “They changed their offense a little bit. Even from last year they changed it a little bit. It used to be very structured, the offense. Now it’s so random it’s just like their defense. It’s just a lot of random stuff that happens and they play really hard. They just— I don’t know how to describe it. It’s unique.”
“Not looking forward to that twice a year.”
On Monday, UConn will be the best team in the country. Not by any poll or metric but in the minds of Doug Bruno and his team.
“[Bruno’s] an unbelievable competitor,” Auriemma said. “You ask him ‘Who’s the best team in the country?’ he’ll tell you ‘Whoever we’re playing next.’ That’s his mentality. So the fact that it’s us doesn’t bother him one bit because right after our game, he’ll have his kids convinced that whoever they play after that is the best team in the country.”
In reality, the Huskies moved up to No. 2 from No. 4 in the AP Poll after former No. 2 Louisville lost to Ohio State. UConn leaped No. 3 Oregon, who has one loss on their record...to Louisville. However, Auriemma thinks his team’s current ranking is about as accurate as DePaul’s assessment of the Huskies.
“That’s a statement. I’m not sure what that statement means, but it’s not possible,” he said. “It’s not really true. We’re just there because we haven’t lost yet. Everybody else happened to lose. We ain’t number two in the country.”
The two schools first met in 1983, two years prior to Auriemma’s arrival at UConn and a quarter of a century prior to DePaul’s entrance into the old Big East. That was the high point for the Blue Demons, who took a 70-64 victory in Coral Gables, Florida. From there, the Huskies have won 16 straight — all but one of which has been by double-digits.
UConn has been particularly dominant this decade. Each win has been by at least 15 points and the Huskies have only allowed more than 70 points once.
Whenever UConn plays DePaul, Auriemma always makes sure to bring up their meeting in 2015-16. It was a nondescript 86-70 win by the numbers, but the game itself was far from normal. Bruno subbed five players at a time at a rapid succession, similar to line changes in hockey.
“I remember when we went out there a couple years ago, Lou’s freshman year, when they went to 555,” Auriemma said. “They just kept subbing five guys at a time, the first time he had ever done. And it was chaotic. It was like an NHL game. Guys were jumping over the boards running in there and guys were running out. It was insanity.”
UConn’s Core Four of Dangerfield, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Walker and Williams are near-locks to start, but the fifth spot is still in flux. Kyla Irwin and Anna Makurat have split the starts there with the senior earning the nod in the last two games. But with DePaul’s full-court press, Auriemma could be inclined to start Makurat to give UConn an extra ball handler on the court. Irwin was also under the weather at practice on Friday, which could limit her minutes.
How to Watch
Time: 8 p.m.
Where: Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network