UConn women’s basketball kicked off its first official practice of the 2020-21 season Wednesday. But in reality, the official start of practice is closer to a formality than anything new the team is doing.
The Huskies have been conducting workouts since returning to campus in July and as of Sep. 21, they could practice up to 12 hours per week and spend eight hours of that on skill work. Coaches were also required to give players at least two days off every week.
Now, they can practice 20 hours a week — a maximum of four hours per day — and players get one day off per week. In total, the team has 41 days to fit in 30 practices before games begin. So instead of using the first few practices to shake the rust off, the Huskies can build on the progress they’ve already made.
“We’ve been doing things for like a month, at least, so we’ve seen a whole bunch of really, really great things over the course of the last month or so,” Auriemma said. “There’s times where we think ‘Yeah, we’re pretty far along.’ It’s encouraging because there’s a competitive level that I think is really good. Our young guys are really adding a lot. They’re adding a lot in so many ways. It didn’t even feel like the first day of practice because we’ve been doing it so long.”
And from Anna Makurat’s perspective, the shift to official practice helped boost the energy and attention to detail compared to the workouts.
“You could see a little difference. It’s not a big one because we already started practicing together before but it’s definitely the high pace of the drills, everything,” she said.
Auriemma seemed generally happy with how his team is coming along. On the positive side, the team’s competitiveness, chemistry and aggressive play have stood out so far.
“The one strength that I see is there’s a competitiveness. They enjoy trying to get something done as a group,” Auriemma said. “They mix very well as a group. You can definitely tell who the young guys are and who the returning guys are but there’s a meshing that’s happened.”
“They all want to be really aggressive,” he added later. “They all want to score, they all want to steal the ball, they all want to go rebound. I just had a conversation with Anna [Makurat] today. I said ‘What the hell’s the hurry?’ She said ‘Well, I don’t want to waste any possessions.’ This crazy, ‘We gotta get something done right now’ [mentality]. There’s a good feeling about that as opposed to I’m dragging it along.”
On the other hand, the Huskies still need to figure out who can be a consistent three-point threat. He joked that a lot of players want to shoot, but nobody has proven they can make the shots yet.
“I hear them talking to me all the time: ‘I can shoot from there. I can shoot from there.’ I hear that like 15 times a day,” he quipped. “I said ‘I can shoot from there too. I’d really like somebody that can make them from there.’ That’s what we’re working on now.”
Other notes from practice
- In practice footage released by the team, every player was present in uniform and participated.
- The coaching staff appears to view Aaliyah Edwards as a post player. She was seen working with Chris Dailey (who typically coaches the bigs) alongside Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Piath Gabriel.
- Even with the pandemic, the Huskies are still using male practice players.
Auriemma also provided more updates on his team’s schedule this season. With the Notre Dame matchup postponed, UConn will try to add another game to replace the Fighting Irish on their non-conference schedule. Other than that, Auriemma said the games against Baylor and Tennessee are on but a date still needs to be set. South Carolina is locked in as well, according to Gamecocks’ coach Dawn Staley.
Auriemma hoped to have “more concrete information next week” and noted that the Big East hasn’t even given a schedule to teams yet, which makes it difficult to find a date for non-conference games.
Two weeks ago, Auriemma confirmed the conference will play a 20-game schedule and also hinted that the Huskies will begin the season on Nov. 28 against Quinnipiac in the Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge tournament.
Future NCAA Tournament locations announced
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced the locations for future championships. Tampa will host the Women’s Final Four in 2025 followed by Phoenix in 2026. In addition, the format of the NCAA Tournament regionals will change. Currently, the regionals (Sweet Sixteen and Final Four) are spread out across four different cities. But beginning in 2023, they will be condensed into just two sites:
2023: Greenville, SC & Seattle, WA
2024: Albany, NY & Portland, OR
2025: Birmingham, AL & Spokane, WA
2026: Fort Worth, TX & Sacramento, CA
This change is a tough break for UConn, as the Huskies almost always play in a regional close to the fanbase, which gives them a friendly crowd to play in front of. In the last decade, UConn’s Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight matchups have been in either Bridgeport, Connecticut or a neighboring state all but twice. With the new format, the Huskies will have to get on a plane for the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament more often.
Future Final Four locations:
2021: San Antonio, TX
2022: Minneapolis, MN
2023: Dallas, TX
2024: Cleveland, OH
2025: Tampa, FL
2026: Phoenix, AZ
Future regional sites:
2021: Albany, NY; Austin, TX; Cincinnati, OH; Spokane, WA
2022: Bridgeport, CT; Greensboro, NC; Spokane, WA; Wichita, KS
2023: Greenville, SC; Seattle, WA
2024: Albany, NY; Portland, OR
2025: Birmingham, AL; Spokane, WA
2026: Fort Worth, TX; Sacramento, CA