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Notebook: How does UConn women’s basketball prepare for DePaul? ‘It’s impossible’

Plus updates on the Huskies’ injuries, their plans to squeeze in another game after DePaul, and more.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 Big East Women’s Tournament - DePaul v Marquette Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UConn women’s basketball hasn’t exactly faced a murderers’ row of high-octane offenses in its first five games, with only one of the Huskies’ opponent — Seton Hall — ranking in the top 100 nationally for scoring offenses. But with the No. 18 DePaul Blue Demons coming to Storrs on Tuesday night, UConn will go see an offense like no other.

DePaul plays at a furious pace, averaging the second-most possessions per game in the country (84.6), while also launching threes at an astonishing rate (27.7 per game). This typically results in high-scoring shootouts. DePaul’s victories this season have ended with final scores of 128-66, 86-82, and 90-81, while its losses closed with scores of 93-91 and 116-76.

It’s the type of offense that few coaches have the personnel for and even fewer have the guts to actually run. That makes preparing to play the Blue Demons an extraordinarily-difficult task — especially with a team as reliant on underclassmen as UConn.

“When you have a young team, DePaul can make you look silly,” Geno Auriemma said. “It’s impossible to prepare your kids for something like that because our second team can’t duplicate what they do, replicate what they do. They can’t. So maybe if we have practice players that could go that fast and move that quickly and jack up that many shots, it may be a little bit easier but we just can’t simulate it in practice. We can’t.”

That means Auriemma and his staff will do what they can to prep the team with video and scouting reports, but the players will just have to figure things out once the game gets underway. UConn did see a watered-down version of DePaul’s style in its last outing against Villanova, however. In that game, the Wildcats threw up 39 three-pointers compared to just 30 shots from inside the arc.

The Huskies held Villanova to just 28.2 percent shooting from three, although Auriemma downplayed how much his team’s defense factored into that number. UConn utilized a lot of zone defense — “Standing in our zone and yelling ‘Miss,’” as Auriemma put it — something that’ll likely continue against DePaul.

“That worked pretty well so I think we’re going to stick with that for a while,” Auriemma said sarcastically about the team’s zone, before adding: “Trying to play man to man, trying to change things up a little bit — it’s going to be a little bit of a challenge for right now until some of our guys grow up a little bit.”

UConn could use its offense to aid the defense by slowing down the pace and not allowing DePaul to play at the tempo it prefers. However, doing so would hamstring the Huskies’ most effective method of scoring points: getting out in transition.

“If you watched us play five games, the only time we’re any good is when? When we’re running up and down,” Auriemma said. “So if I slow my guys down too much, they’re gonna fall asleep.”

So ultimately, UConn won’t be trying to shut down the Blue Demons’ offense as much as it’ll try to dictate where they take shots. If the Huskies can keep the DePaul off the three-point line, they’ll have a significant size advantage on the inside, which will (theoretically) make it more difficult for the Blue Demons to score in the paint.

But aside from that, UConn’s game plan isn’t anything overly complex. The Huskies will just match offense with offense and try to beat DePaul at its own game.

“You gotta convert at the other end,” Auriemma said. “That’s one of the things that’s always helped us in past years is we’ve been able to have really good offensive games against them and that’s offset whatever we don’t do well defensively.”

Injury updates

UConn should be back at full strength against DePaul. The Huskies were without freshmen Nika Muhl (left foot) and Aaliyah Edwards (right ankle) again Villanova, but both players practiced each of the last three days and are expected to play on Tuesday night.

“They look good and I expect — unless something comes up — I expect both of them to play and be impact players tomorrow,” Auriemma said. “Certainly with their energy and their ability to guard, they’re gonna really be valuable coming into tomorrow.”

Muhl injured her foot in the preseason and played in UConn’s first two games before sitting out the last three after the team’s medical staff determined the injury wouldn’t heal without rest. Edwards rolled her ankle the day prior to the Villanova game and did not play against the Wildcats.

Schedule struggles

After UConn plays DePaul, they aren’t scheduled to play again until Jan. 7 at Baylor — a span of nine days. Auriemma wants to add a game to break up that gap but the Huskies are struggling to find an opponent.

“We’ve been looking, but nothing. We’ve been looking, we’ve been looking, we’ve been looking,” he said. “We’ve tried, but nothing. Nothing’s come of it.”

However, Auriemma later added that things change quickly, so UConn could still find a partner.

Other notes

  • Geno on Duke women’s basketball canceling its season: “I was really surprised. You never know the whole story, you never know what anyone’s motivation is so there had to have been some circumstances within the program that brought about that decision. It is what it is. I mean, it was a decision made at Duke, ‘We don’t feel good about going forward.’ And then somebody asked me, ‘Do you think more programs will do that?’ Who knows? I mean, in this particular year, there isn’t anything that you say ‘Wow that’s crazy.” No, I mean, who would have thought, right? Surprising? Obviously, very surprising. But unexplainable? No. Totally explainable. But just very, very surprising.”
  • Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright tested positive for COVID-19 this past week. Wright is a close friend of Auriemma’s and the two saw each other when the Huskies played the Wildcats last Tuesday. Auriemma said he’s tested negative twice since and thinks it’s unlikely Wright transmitted the virus to him.
  • With COVID-19 vaccines being distributed across the country, Arizona coach Adia Barnes argued that college athletes should be high on the list to get the vaccine. Auriemma disagreed with that notion: “If 18 to 30 year-olds should get the fast track, it’s because they’re super spreaders. They go out, they do things, they’re out and about just naturally. So if you say all college kids should, yeah. But I don’t think there’s anything special about what college athletes do. I mean, yeah, we’re here playing and you see some teams just opt-out, some kids opt-out. But I think the fast track should be for restaurant and bar owners, bartenders, essential workers medium. All essential workers — first responders, nurses, doctors, nursing homes, bar owners, restaurant owners, bartenders.”