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Geno Auriemma doesn’t want UConn to hide from ugly loss to Oregon

“I’m not one of these people that thinks if you avoid looking at something, it makes it go away. It’s not my job to make them feel better right now.”

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn women’s basketball doesn’t need anyone to tell it just how bad its loss to Oregon was. The Huskies fell by 18 points — their largest margin of defeat in any game since 2007 and the biggest in the history of Gampel Pavilion.

“Angry, embarrassed because it was basically a 20-point loss on our home floor, disappointed,” Crystal Dangerfield said afterwards.

“It can’t happen anymore,” Anna Makurat offered. “We just didn’t execute well...we didn’t play defense sometimes. It’s a hard word but it was stupid what we did on the court. We have to be smarter next time.”

The game went about as poorly as the final score suggests. Oregon was in command from the second minute on, crushing any and every hope of a comeback whenever UConn started to creep back in it. If anything, the final score could’ve been wider if the Ducks didn’t let up slightly in the final quarter.

The Huskies were on the receiving end of the kind of beatdown they usually put on other good teams. But that’s par for the course this year. Many around the game are quick to point out how this UConn team doesn’t stack up to those from years’ past. In January, Geno Auriemma pushed against that narrative.

“My kids are sick of answering questions about why we’re not what we used to be, why we don’t win like we used to,” he said. “Why things don’t look like they used to. They are really kind of sick of listening to it. Sick of answering those questions.”

But Monday night’s loss only affirmed that notion. UConn came up short of the (sometimes excessive) lofty standards that constantly hang over the program. The Huskies aren’t expected to win every game — despite popular perception. But they’re expected to give the opposition their best shot every game and if it ends in a loss, so be it. UConn didn’t do that against the Ducks.

Dangerfield and Makurat were the only ones who reached double-figures. Megan Walker faltered in the spotlight with a 3-for-16 shooting night and finished with just eight points — 11 points below her season average.

On the other end, UConn was helpless against Oregon’s pick-and-roll offense, giving up 39 points combined to Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally. In total, the Ducks scored 44 of its 74 points in the paint.

The matchup against Oregon was framed as a test, a measuring stick for the Huskies. UConn failed that test, and Auriemma wants his team to know it. While he and his staff normally preach ignoring the noise outside the program, he turned heel and instead wants the players to let it in.

“Actually I tell them they should look at (what everyone said after the game),” he said.

“I’m not one of these people that thinks if you avoid looking at something, it makes it go away. It’s not my job to make them feel better right now. My job is to be realistic with them and say, ‘Pick up the paper tomorrow, go on social media, read what happened, see what happened here tonight and then deal with it.’ ... Because if we won that game, you couldn’t wait to read about how great you were.”

The overwhelming takeaway from all sides is that Oregon cemented itself as a national championship contender while UConn — barring some dramatic improvement in the next month — is not. But the players don’t need anyone to tell them that.

“We can’t look like that if we want to fight for national championships,” Makurat said. “We can’t look like somebody’s older, somebody’s more experienced. We just have to fight them and I don’t think we fought them tonight.”

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Geno honors Kobe

One week to the day after UConn and the US national team honored Kobe and Gigi Bryant prior to their exhibition game, Auriemma honored them himself. Under his suit jacket, the coach wore a yellow No. 8 jersey with Bryant’s name across the chest. Afterwards, Auriemma explained the meaning behind the gesture.

“I was hoping to live vicariously through him, that he would come back, his spirit would come back and enter into all my players and infuse them with the work ethic and tenacity and competitiveness that he had but it didn’t play out that way,” he said, before becoming more solemn. “Someone sent it to me that was at that Lakers game, the other night when they put all those out. Because they sent it to me and because they thought enough of it, I decided I should wear it.

However, Auriemma noted that to his own dismay, the jersey wasn’t his to keep.

“They told me I had to send it back. I had one shot at it, they said. They want it back so it’ll be in the mail tomorrow, unfortunately,” he said.

Recruits in the house

It was a busy day on the recruiting front for UConn. The Huskies hosted three prospects at the game: Saylor Poffenbarger, Caroline Ducharme and KK Bransford.

Poffenbarger is one of two UConn commits in the class of 2021, along with Amari DeBerry. Poffenbarger, a 6-foot-2 guard from Maryland, is rated as the No. 21 player in the class.

Ducharme is a local prospect, a native of Milton, Massachusetts. She’s the No. 41 player in 2021 with known offers from North Carolina and Ohio State. Ducharme also visited for UConn’s win over Notre Dame.

Bransford is the youngest of the bunch as a 2022 prospect. The Cincinnati native is the No. 9 overall play in her class and the top-ranked guard.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Camara finally returns

Batouly Camara also made her first appearance of the season with a minute left after spending the entire year up to this point recovering from a left knee scope. It’s been a long road back for the redshirt senior but now, she’ll join the team with one final shot at making a lasting impact at UConn after transferring in from Kentucky.

Through her first two seasons, Camara has played in 48 games, averaging 1.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 4.8 minutes per game.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog