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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From the UConn WBB Weekly Premium:
- ‘One tough kid’: Caroline Ducharme returns, lifts UConn past Creighton
- Fourth quarter rally helps UConn survive Creighton
- UConn’s out of its “funk” but plenty of work remains
- How UConn stifled Villanova star Maddy Siegrist
- Dorka Juhász guts out double-double in 35 minutes on sprained ankle; UConn dumb but tough; Why Geno let Nika Mühl play through foul trouble
- What happened to UConn’s high-flying offense?
- UConn sunk by ‘entitled’ performance against St. John’s
From The UConn Blog:
- No. 6 UConn women’s basketball beats No. 14 Villanova, 60-51
- UConn women’s basketball upset by St. John’s, 69-64
- Photo gallery: St. John’s Red Storm @ UConn women’s basketball
Last week’s Weekly:
To get back on track, UConn needs to re-find its offense
After UConn’s loss to St. John’s on Tuesday night at the XL Center both head coach Geno Auriemma and point guard Nika Mühl were pretty clear about what went wrong: The Huskies didn’t come with the energy and effort required to beat a Red Storm team that played “like their life depends on every game.”
“Our effort throughout the whole game was just bad and we didn’t match their enthusiasm and their effort and the way they played,” Mühl added. “We didn’t match that at all and the result is the result.”
That might’ve been what caused the defeat on Tuesday night, but UConn’s overall performance was a symptom of a larger problem facing the team, one that could ultimately end its season: The offense has completely vanished.
From Jan. 3 to Jan. 26, the Huskies averaged 82.5 points per game, assisted on 69.5 percent of their baskets, shot a nation-best 53.9 percent from the floor, 38.7 percent from three and scored 18.6 fast break points per game — also tops in the nation. They scored over 100 points once, over 80 points four other times and only came in under 70 points once.
In the eight games since then, UConn’s offensive numbers have plummeted. It’s averaged 63.6 points per game, assisted on just 54.6 percent of baskets, shot 43.1 percent from the field, 31.8 percent from three, and scored 7.5 fast break points per game. The Huskies have gone over the 70-point mark once.
After the win over Villanova on Saturday, Geno Auriemma explained that they intentionally slowed the offense down to keep their five starters fresh after fatigue hit the team hard in early February. A high-octane offense that thrived in transition simply wasn’t sustainable with a paper-thin rotation. UConn’s main goal, the coach said, was just to make sure everyone got into the postseason in one piece.
That doesn’t fully account for the dip, though — and St. John’s proved that.
In the loss, the Huskies shot a season-low 34.1 percent from the floor. That’s even with a good night from behind the arc (8-21) which meant on 2-pointers, UConn went just 6-20 (30 percent).
It took almost three minutes for the Huskies to score their first basket. They scored five points over the final four minutes of the third quarter. After they got within two points with 2:09 left, they failed to score again until there were 31 seconds left.
An offense can still be good even if it plays slowly. That’s not the case with UConn right now — the offense is struggling, full stop.
“We need points,” Auriemma said. “We need people to put the ball in the basket. Right now, that’s what we’re missing the most.”
Some of the issues are tied to volume — or lack thereof. UConn hasn’t out-shot an opponent in any of its last 13 games dating back to Jan. 11 at St. John’s. Turnovers are part of the reason — when they give the ball up, the Huskies don’t get a shot while the other team gets an extra one if they get one off on the ensuing possession — as are offensive rebounds.
The Huskies have been mediocre on the offensive glass all season, averaging 10.9 per game on the year. But in their aforementioned hot stretch, they grabbed 11.9 offensive rebounds per game and turned those into 10.6 second-chance points. In their current rut, they’ve snagged just 9.8 o-boards and gotten 9.1 second-chance points per game as a result.
“We’ve been getting 10, sometimes 11, 12, 13 less shots than the other team. That’s a part of it. And getting out rebounded — a lot of second chance points we’re giving up — not as many transition baskets,” Auriemma said. “I mean, there’s reasons why we’re not scoring points.”
Don’t look to the bench for answers, though. In this eight-game stretch, Inês Bettencourt, Amari DeBerry and Ayanna Patterson have combined for 10.1 minutes per game — and Patterson is responsible for 5.75 of those. Auriemma wants points off the bench, which is why Ducharme has averaged 22.0 minutes in her three games back but nobody else can break into the rotation.
“In a normal world... you would go to your bench, some guys come off the bench and pick up some guys who weren’t playing real good that are starters,” Auriemma said. “We don’t have that right now.”
“It’s different because you don’t have options. That’s why it’s different,” he added later. “There’s been other times when we’ve had guys who — for whatever reason — don’t show up or don’t play well, whatever — it’s easy. You just grab somebody put them in and it changes the game. You have options. We don’t have any options. We need points and we don’t have guys on the bench that can score points. So those guys are helpful, provided we have a lead and we’re playing well and buckets are going in, then they can go in.”
That means it’s on UConn’s current six-player rotation to figure it out. While everyone can improve, two players in particular stick out as obvious candidates to boost the offense: Aaliyah Edwards and Aubrey Griffin.
After being on an All-American pace with 17.6 points on 62.2 shooting through 21 games, Edwards has hit a rut. Over the last eight games, she’s averaged 12.8 points on 43.0 percent shooting. Outside of a stellar 25-point effort against South Carolina, Edwards hasn’t scored more than 14 points in that span.
Griffin’s struggled even more. She averaged 13.6 points on 59.3 percent shooting with a 34.3 3-point percentage through 21 contests but since the Tennessee game, those numbers have dipped to 11.4 points on 46.9 percent shooting and 21.4 percent from three. In her three most recent games, Griffin has scored a combined 12 points, including just a two-point night vs. St. John’s.
When UConn’s offense was rolling earlier in the season, those two were playing their best basketball. As they go, the Huskies will go down the stretch.
If UConn hopes to accomplish all its goals — winning the Big East trophies as well as a national championship, it can’t afford to lose another game. The Huskies need victories in their final two regular season contests to claim the Big East regular season championship outright, then obviously can’t fall in either the conference or NCAA Tournaments.
UConn’s margin of error is gone. Either it turns the offense around now, or it fails to win a conference trophy for the first time in 10 years. If the problems persist into mid-March, the Huskies’ streak of 14-straight trips to the Final Four will end.
It’s now or never for this team — and one way or another, the offense will decide how the rest of the season unfolds.
Photo of the week
Best of social media
Aaliyah Edwards has showed up against the best teams:
Aaliyah Edwards vs. top-25 teams this season:— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) February 19, 2023
-55.8 FG% pic.twitter.com/qCxqSGaFrY
UConn honored its senior practice players before Tuesday’s game:
Shoutout to our senior practice players! Thanks for all you do for our program pic.twitter.com/Ak25zAOcIL— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) February 22, 2023