With the NCAA announcing Nov. 25 as the start date to the college basketball season, UConn women’s basketball’s schedule for the 2020-21 season is beginning to come into focus.
The Big East will play a 20-game schedule, Geno Auriemma confirmed on a call with media on Thursday, with a minimum of three or four of those games being played in December. Typically, the conference season doesn’t begin until January.
The Huskies intend on playing a non-conference schedule as well. Though the delayed start date and move to a 20-game conference slate will reduce the number of out-of-conference opponents UConn typically faces, Auriemma said marquee matchups such as Baylor, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Tennessee, and the Mohegan Sun tournament with Quinnipiac, Mississippi State, and Maine have not been canceled yet.
“So far, we haven’t heard from anybody that says, ‘Hey, we’re off the schedule. We’re not playing.’ Until somebody does that — which they haven’t — then yeah, we have those games,” Auriemma said. “We don’t have the date, we don’t have the time, we don’t have any of that. But we have a commitment that we’re playing. The way things are in the world today, things change every day. So who knows?”
One of the more difficult problems UConn will need to work around with its schedule will be Connecticut’s Travel Advisory List. The state requires “anyone traveling into Connecticut from a state with a positive case rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a 10% test positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average” to quarantine for 14 days.
Five Big East schools and all the non-conference opponents mentioned above aside from Quinnipiac and Maine are currently on the list, which includes 34 states and territories. However, the travel restrictions don’t apply if you spend less than 24 hours in a state or territory on the list, which means teams travel to and from games on the same day without quarantining.
But Auriemma wasn’t worried about the travel restrictions and left those decisions up to his own athletic department and the conference.
“All these things have yet to be determined. There’s a lot of scenarios out there,” he said. “You have to go in on the day of the game. Well, that’s great if you’re playing college football in September and October and you’re going from one warm weather place to another. That’s a completely different scenario if you have to fly from Connecticut to Chicago the day of the game. It may work, it may not. So all these things are being discussed at the league office and we don’t have any direction as to what those protocols are going to be.”
“We can’t outrun where we are”
Back in August, Auriemma’s “biggest challenge” was the lack of a schedule to work with. But now that there’s an official start date, he can finally plan out the next couple weeks leading up to the beginning of official practice on Oct. 14 and beyond.
“It was really, really difficult to set any kind of goals this season going into the early part of this season because...we didn’t know what we were up against,” Auriemma said. “Once [the start date was announced], we found out when our starting date is for practice, when our starting date is for games, then it gave us an opportunity to build our calendar. So far, leading up to the 14th — 13 days from today — we have a pretty good idea of where we wanna go, what we wanna do and how we want to do it.”
Even still, Auriemma is taking it slow with his team. With the loss of the summer session — which the coach likened to “mini-camp” — he’s still taking stock of each individual player and the team as a whole.
“Every day, we’re learning and we’re trying to find out who can do what,” he said. “What skills does each individual have? How do those skills mesh into what i like to do as a coach? Can I do some of the same things I did last year and the year before? Or do I need to go in another direction because we don’t have the same skillsets? So those things will start to show themselves.”
Another factor impacting the team’s rate of progress is the fact that seven of the eleven players on the roster have never suited up in a game for the Huskies. Because of that, the coaching staff is sticking to more basic, fundamental work in order to help everyone settle in and get comfortable. They’ll stick with that until Oct. 14 and once that date hits, the team will begin to ramp up into “more in-depth stuff,” as Auriemma put it.
But he’s in no rush. With roughly two months between now and the start of games, Auriemma is comfortable with the pace right now.
“We can’t outrun where we are. This is where we are, we have to slow down,” he said. “And I’m okay with that. We’re not going to be as good at as many things as we were in past years. But at a few things, we’ll be just as good as we’ve ever been. So that’s kind of what our approach is right now.”