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UConn WBB Weekly: Dissecting the Huskies’ first two games

What we’ve learned about the Huskies after re-watching their first two games of the season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Massachusetts Lowell at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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In the news

NCAA Tournament moves to a single-venue format

March Madness is going to look different this year. The NCAA announced it will move the entire tournament to one location — probably San Antonio (and greater Texas) — likely within a bubble format to reduce the possible impact of the coronavirus.

UConn won the national title twice in San Antonio — 2002 and 2010. Geno Auriemma is in favor of the idea, for this season at least.

“If you’re in one place, there’s one set of protocols for the entire state. That’s one positive to it,” Auriemma said. “Trying to get 64 teams from all over the country to fly to all those places and deal with all the protocols involved everywhere, it made more sense, I’m sure, to bring in everyone to Texas.”


Dissecting the tape from the Huskies’ first two games

After a long wait, UConn women’s basketball has two games under its belt. The Huskies easily dispatched UMass Lowell and Seton Hall, which allowed a lot of players to get a lot of minutes. Though two games isn’t a huge sample size, we know far more about this team than we did at this time last week.

But we decided to dive even deeper into the first 80 minutes of UConn’s season to get a better understanding of the Huskies.

UMass Lowell

  • The difference between UConn and UMass Lowell was pretty evident from the start. The River Hawks made some questionable decisions with the ball (one player tried to pass the ball through Olivia Nelson-Ododa and spoiler, but it didn’t work out) and were also lazy on defense.
  • Bueckers’ five steals should be half credited to UMass Lowell for the above reason. Though the freshmen showed active hands, got in passing lanes and certainly made some plays, the River Hawks also just handed her the ball a few times.

Her on-ball defense needs work. Bueckers’ foot speed is slow and she got beat a couple of times off the dribble but got bailed out by either Nelson-Ododa or a bad shot. As phenomenal as she’s been on offense, better teams will go after her on the defensive end.

  • Evina Westbrook appeared to tweak something in the first quarter. After a turnover, she slowly jogged back on defense and after the play stopped, she seemed to wince and look down at her legs. Geno immediately pulled her from the game. It didn’t look serious, though, and she played plenty the rest of the game.
  • Overall, Westbrook had a solid — if unspectacular game. The “whatever the team needs me to do” mantra gets overused, but that’s exactly how the redshirt junior played. She won’t lead UConn in any statistical categories but Westbrook is clearly in an important role on the team.
  • Along those same lines, Anna Makurat played better than I thought from my initial watch and the stat sheet. Though Bueckers ran the point, Makurat pulled a lot of the strings on offense. She played a pass-first game but took shots when the defense gave them to her, which mostly ended up being three pointers.
  • Nelson-Ododa actually played pretty well in the first half. Aside from one lapse where she let a player run right by her, the junior controlled the low post and was a vacuum for rebounds. On offense, Nelson-Ododa ran the floor well and though she tried for a fall-away jumper instead of going to the rim a few times, she was aggressive with the ball in her hands and went through contact to the basket. Free throws are definitely an issue, though. Her shooting motion doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
  • UConn gets a pass because of the 10-day quarantine, but you could tell they weren’t at full fitness. They were visibly tired by end of the first half and the defense effort waned because of it.
  • Geno called a timeout early in the second quarter and lit into Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams on the bench.
  • Nelson-Ododa couldn’t find the basket in the second half despite some decent looks. On one play, she missed four consecutive shots. She found herself on the bench for the rest of the game shortly afterwards.
  • Williams’ 10-point night on 5-12 shooting looked worse on the second watch. Most of her points came in transition, though she did get some open looks from three that just didn’t fall. But when UConn was in a half-court set, Williams was very stagnant. Whereas Bueckers, Makurat and Westbrook all weaved around the floor to open up space and move the ball, Williams seemed planted in one spot on the three-point line. After seeing that, it’s no surprise she only scored 10 points.
  • There was a pretty clear difference between Aubrey Griffin and Mir McLean. While McLean was active and created chaos wherever she went, Griffin was... muted. Last season, Griffin looked and played the way McLean did.
  • Muhl has a steeper learning curve as a freshman point guard compared to someone like Aaliyah Edwards or McLean, which was evident against the River Hawks. When UConn handed her the reins at the end of the game, she tried to force too much and ended up turning the ball over a few times. She’ll learn from those mistakes and improve with more time.
  • Piath Gabriel wasn’t great in her first action but it’s easy to see the potential that the coaches see. In her first play on the court, she came to the high post for the ball, pivoted and immediately hit McLean under the basket. Gabriel played hard on defense and went after rebounds, too. She may not get important minutes this year, but her development will be fascinating to watch.

Seton Hall

  • Christyn Williams’ first three shots of the game were similar to the ones she got against UMass Lowell. The only difference is she actually made them at Seton Hall.
  • UConn ran the offense through Olivia Nelson-Ododa early on. When the Huskies were in the half court, they’d dump it down to Nelson-Ododa, where she’d either go to the basket or pass it back out to the perimeter. She was clearly the primary option for much of the first quarter.
  • Nelson-Ododa also tried her luck at a three-pointer in the opening period. It missed badly but she did hit a few long jumpers later in the game. If she can make those shots consistently, that’ll make life a lot easier for her on offense.
  • Westbrook is clearly still working off the rust. She missed a couple of layups and still hasn’t found her shot. Her motor’s there, though, and the points should start to come with more experience in UConn’s offense.
  • Bueckers guarded Lauren Park-Lane for much of the game and was clearly outmatched. The freshman couldn’t keep up with Park-Lane’s quickness and frequently got beat off the dribble — a theme that carried over from the UMass Lowell game.

That may not have all been Bueckers’ fault, though. UConn seemed to be enticing Seton Hall to drive to the basket. Here’s an example with Griffin:

With Nelson-Ododa roaming the paint, the Huskies were probably trying to limit the Pirates’ three-point shooting. The hosts made just 5-28 from behind the line, so if that’s the case, the plan worked.

  • UConn’s 13-2 run out of the first media timeout came almost exclusively in transition. The offense cooled down in the second quarter once it started to run half-court sets and settled for bad shots.

It also didn’t help that at one point in the period, UConn’s lineup was Edwards, Griffin, McLean, Nika Muhl, and Westbrook. That’s not exactly a group built for scoring, especially this year in the season. Westbrook is probably the only one of those five who can create her own shot.

  • Edwards is a force under the basket. On one offensive rebound, she started her box out outside the paint, drove her way all the way into the key, and grabbed a rebound over two Seton Hall players. More on her later.
  • Geno said that sometimes Mir McLean goes to “another place” on the floor, which is why she didn’t play in the second half. At the end of the second quarter, she got called for a three-second violation in the paint, later was slow to get back on defense after her own turnover, completely lost track of Park-Lane while guarding her, and didn’t move off the low post on the ensuing offensive possession. Her energy level visibly dropped over that time and she got the hook.
  • One of the (many) things that’s so impressive about Bueckers is her feel for running the offense. She knows exactly where the spaces in the defense are, if there are open players and what type of shot to take. Through two games, Bueckers has also been really good at peeling off a screen on the wing, getting the ball at the free-throw line, pump faking to shake her defender, and then hitting a jumper.
  • Williams was more active on offense than Saturday’s game, but she still went into lulls where she didn’t move enough. There was progress against Seton Hall, but she could still be much better.
  • Really, both Williams and Nelson-Ododa could be better. Those two should be dictating the game every second that they’re on the floor. They only did that in spurts against Seton Hall.
  • At the end of the third quarter, Westbrook and Park-Lane started jawing at each other after Edwards blocked the latter’s shot. That the edge Westbrook brings that we’ve heard so much about. However, the redshirt junior got pulled immediately and seemed to get an earful from Chris Dailey.
  • Speaking of Edwards, she did most of her damage in the fourth quarter (11 of 17 points) — and for good reason. The way a power running back wears down defenses in the fourth quarter in football, Edwards did that to Seton Hall. Every time she touched the ball down low, she threw a shoulder into the nearest defender whether it was needed or not. At a certain point, the Pirates stopped going near her, which allowed her some easy rebound and put-back chances.
  • Griffin looks lost so far this season. Whereas McLean has made an impact right off the bat, Griffin has just 11 points and four rebounds in the two games but most concerning, just looks off on the floor. Hopefully it’s just some early-season jitters.
  • Makurat and Westbrook both quietly finished with seven assists. Even after re-watching the game, neither player was very noticeable. Regardless, it’s good to see that type of production out of both players even though they haven’t scored much.

Best of social media

Some hilarious videos from the team:

You’ve heard of Elf on the Shelf, but have you heard of...

This take didn’t age well:

We’ll see a lot of this over the next four years:

We’ll probably also see a lot of this, too:

Quotable

Geno’s not a fan of empty arenas:

“This is the weirdest thing ever. I looked over in the end zone, we have more dog posters at our game today and we had human beings. When was the last time that happened? They were more canines in Gampel Pavilion today than there were human beings.”

...And apparently, neither is his mom:

“My mother watching, her picture, her thing’s over there and she thinks it’s the most bizarre thing she’s ever seen and she’s 89 and has seen everything since World War Two.”

Meanwhile, Nika Muhl doesn’t like the officiating in America:

Scoreboard

Sunday, Dec. 13

Albany 71, Seton Hall 66

Wednesday, Dec. 16

No. 24 DePaul 86, No. 9 Kentucky 82
Marquette 66, St. John’s 62

AP Poll

  1. Stanford (—)
  2. Louisville (—)
  3. UConn (—)
  4. NC State (—)
  5. South Carolina (—)

Other notes:

  • USF moved into the poll at No. 22.
  • DePaul held at No. 24.
  • Villanova received two votes.
  • Notre Dame received zero votes.