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UConn WBB Weekly: Huskies offense beginning to click, defense still a work in progress

Wrapping up some notes and quotes from UConn’s last preseason media availability.

Courtesy of UConn Athletics

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Cleaning out the notebook

Some final leftovers from UConn’s last availability:

Offense up, defense down

Throughout the preseason, Geno Auriemma has highlighted a clear divide between UConn’s four returning players and its seven newcomers on the court. At Big East media day, while praising the team’s off-court chemistry, he pointed out that it was struggling to find that same connection between the lines.

However, Christyn Williams — who usually gives an honest assessment, good or bad — disagreed with Auriemma’s statement.

“He said that? I feel like we’re meshing well on the court,” she said. “I mean, it is understandable. Like we have six new guys and they’re freshmen. But yeah, we just have to stay patient and our chemistry will come along. But I feel like we’re further along than I thought we would be.”

While the Huskies were strong defensively with an offense that sputtered at times last season, Williams believes that so for this year, the offense is ahead of the defense.

“Our offense, it flows really well. Everybody gets touches and we get open shots. We just have to knock them down,” she said. “Defense, our defense needs to sharpen up a little bit. But like, that’s understandable too, but we’re getting there. It’s a work in progress.”

Though the defense isn’t where UConn wants it right now, there shouldn’t be much concern with an elite shot blocker like Olivia Nelson-Ododa protecting the rim. But the offense, in a weird way, may actually be better off without Crystal Dangerfield at point.

That’s not to knock Dangerfield — she was the Huskies’ best player wire-to-wire last season. But the entire offense ran through her and with so many inexperienced players around her, UConn probably leaned on her too much.

With Dangerfield gone, the offensive responsibility falls on everyone, not just one player. The Huskies don’t necessarily have an immediate replacement for her at the point, but they’ll have more playmakers on the court.

Williams and Nelson-Ododa have both already shown off their passing abilities through two seasons, as did Anna Makurat last season. Evina Westbrook — who led Tennessee with 5.3 assists per game as a sophomore — will help in that regard as well, as will freshmen Paige Bueckers and Nika Muhl.

Instead of everything flowing through Dangerfield, UConn can attack defenses from a variety of spots. So far, the results are positive.

“Everybody’s getting touches and we’re getting open shots,” Williams said. “Last year, I feel like we struggled a little bit to get our shot off, but this year it’s coming a lot easier.”

“Like literally: ‘She’s wide open. Give her the ball,’” she added later. “I feel like we didn’t really grasp that concept last year as much as we do compared to right now.”

It’s not hard to see why Williams’ disagreed with her coach about the team’s on-court chemistry. In her view, the offense has a different dimension to it this season — one that hasn’t been present since she’s been at UConn.

“You have people that sub in and we’re not missing a beat,” she said. “That’s important because that’s what we were missing last year, and a little bit freshman year...we have people coming off the bench that can contribute.”

Freshmen still learning the nuances

It’s hard not to be excited about UConn’s freshmen class. The reviews from both coaches and players have been overwhelming positive and at least three of them — Bueckers, Muhl and Aaliyah Edwards — appear to be in line for significant roles. The other two freshmen on scholarship, Piath Gabriel and Mir McLean, don’t appear to be quite as far along but shouldn’t be counted out completely, either.

As a group, Auriemma has frequently praised their competitiveness and the feels they’ve added a new energy to practice. However, he added a qualifier to that statement last week.

“From a competitive standpoint, they’re all very, very competitive,” Auriemma said. “Now, having said that, they’re not necessarily competitive in the boring monotonous drills that you have to do to be a really good player. They haven’t grasped yet how important that is. But they’re very competitive when they play.”

That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise though. Freshmen are learning as they go and attacking every minute in practice is something that takes time to understand.

“I say last year and this year,” Williams said on when she finally learned to compete in the mundane drills. “I mean, it takes a minute. Freshman year, there’s a lot going on. You’re just trying to get through the drills. Your mind is in different places so you know you learn as you get older you grow as a player.”

Geno “confident” for season, but not certain

UConn’s first game is just over a week away on Nov. 28 against Quinnipiac. Despite the rising COVID cases in Connecticut and throughout the country along with numerous Big East programs being temporarily shut down — including UConn men’s basketball — due to the virus in recent weeks, Auriemma believes the season will begin as planned.

“I’m confident that we’re going to be able to do what we need to do and so far we’ve done everything that we’ve been asked to do,” he said. “I’m confident, obviously. We’re all confident. Are we sure? No. But we’re all confident and we believe that come November 28, we’re going to be playing Quinnipiac at Mohegan Sun.”

But as for later down the road, Auriemma is less certain.

“Everything’s okay right now,” he said. “Will everything be okay two months from now? I don’t know.”

Right now, the coach feels the current guidelines and protocols are keeping his team safe. Auriemma did acknowledge there may be a day where the second wave of the virus gets to a point where it’s no longer safe to play basketball — but he doesn’t think they’re near that threshold yet.

“We’re going to do what we need to do to make it work,” he said. “Until when? Until we realize that you know what, it’s not in our best interest, the players best interest specifically, to move on. So until then, I have great confidence.”


Best of social media

What’s better than two dogs? Two dogs wearing UConn gear:

We’ve got a new nickname for one of the Huskies’ new signees:

Evergreen tweet:

Quotables

Some final interesting quotes from last Thursday’s media session that didn’t make it into any other stories:

Geno Auriemma on freshmen Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Muhl: “Aaliyah (Edwards) is one of the most physical players that we’ve had here in a while. Her physicalness and her intensity level and how hard she competes and Nika (Muhl) is the same way. These are two kids that are really exceptionally physical and intense and play really hard and want to try to win every single thing that they do.”

Christyn Williams on how prepared the team is for the season: “I think we’re ready. I think we’re getting there. I mean, we have to be. The season starts in two weeks. But I think we’re prepared for anything that’s thrown at us. Obviously we still have a lot of learning to do and growing to do but that’s any team right now. But we’re really just taking it day by day and we’re just excited to play.”

Williams on the team as a whole: “I think we’re very tough and physical. I wouldn’t say we were there last year but we’re very competitive and I think that’ll take us a very long way. You can’t you can’t teach competitiveness or effort and I think we bring that to the table.”