Breaking Down What UConn Must Do to Win Women's Tournament
The Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team hasn't made it beyond the Final Four in the past two seasons and is in danger of losing the Big East this year—so, what's wrong?
That's a truly bizarre statement and question, but it best exemplifies how dominant this program has been over the past decade.
How far will the UConn ladies go in March?
UConn went 32-2 and came up just short in the National Championship in 2008. It went 39-0, complete with its fifth title of the 2000s, in 2009. Undefeated again in 2010—title No. 6 in 11 years, records broken, complete and utter embarrassment of nearly every opponent.
Simply put, unbeatable.
But since then, Big East rival Notre Dame has had the Huskies' number. The Irish have knocked off UConn in each of the past two Final Fours, won five of the last six head-to-head meetings and have a chance to clinch the conference at home on Monday night.
But even when UConn isn't at its best, it's a dangerous entity capable of easily going all the way. Let's take a look at what the Huskies need to do to get past the Irish and bring home another national title.
They are due, after all.
Find a Way to Contain Brittney Griner
Yes, the Irish are currently an obstacle UConn must learn to pass, but the national championship, first and foremost, goes through defending champs Baylor and Brittney Griner.
Michael Jordan of college basketball Queen of basketball.
Griner is a specimen. In leading her No. 1 Bears to a 28-1 record this season, she is averaging 22.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 4.1 blocks. Believe it or not, those numbers are actually down from her junior year.
No one has ever controlled this sport like Griner. She is unstoppable and could carry four blind rhinos to a national championship, let alone talented players like Odyssey Sims and Destiny Williams.
Stopping Griner, who had 25 and nine in a six-point win against UConn in February, must be priority No. 1 for the Huskies should these teams meet again—which they likely will.
Play to Your Strengths
Of course, UConn's big trees down low can be nearly just as dominant themselves.
Six-foot-five Stefanie Dolson and 6'4" Breanna Stewart combine to make a legitimately tough post combo.
Dolson averages 14.4 points on an efficient 60.5 percent shooting to go with 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Stewart has been less consistent, but she is putting up a solid 12.5 points, 6.6 boards and 1.8 blocks per contest.
If the Huskies run the offense through their strengths down low, it will help open up shots for leading scorer and 50-percent three-point shooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and fellow long-range threat Kelly Faris.
Get Some More Consistency Everywhere Else
It takes a team effort to win a national championship. Stopping Griner, which is clearly easier said than done, is crucial, and big games from Dolson and Mosqueda-Lewis will alone carry the Huskies a long way, but a complete championship run will take a balanced attack.
Just ask head coach Geno Auriemma (via Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register):
"Obviously we've got two guys (Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson) who for the most part have been right there with everything we have done. If you had a chart with their season, if this is 10 and this is 1 it wouldn't go straight across at 10 but the dips wouldn't be much below eight. They have been so incredible consistent, those two, at this point in the season you have to go with it and everybody else has to fill in with it whatever that is. Bria Hartley maybe goes 7 for 11 and that is the difference, Breanna Stewart makes six shots and maybe that's the difference."
The Huskies, who have lost two games by a combined seven points this season, are obviously a force to be reckoned with, but losing is no longer impossible.
Should Stewart improve on her 28.6 three-point percentage (on 2.1 attempts per game), should Bria Hartley stop putting up 0-of-11 performances and should Auriemma get some decent production out of the last guard spot from Caroline Doty or Morgan Tuck, though, losing will become far less of a possibility.
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