UConn’s first game in the American Athletic Conference is until Dec. 29. In the month that precedes it, the No. 1 Huskies (8-0) will take exams and celebrate the holidays – but play only four times.
That gives a program a lot of time to re-energize and recover, if there is anything to energize or recover from after playing so many games in 16 days.
“Remember, there’s really been only seven [players] doing most of the work,” Geno Auriemma said. “They were looking forward to a few days off.”
At UConn, this season, the idle time only serves to slow down what’s been one of the most productive starts in the program history.
The Huskies end play in the Hall of Fame Classic Sunday against Ohio State (6-2) at the Mass Mutual Center, just the second meeting ever between the programs.
It has been a week since UConn ended the first segment of the round-robin by blasting St. Bonaventure by 49 points at the XL Center.
“I like that we’re all on the same page, everyone is playing good,” Moriah Jefferson said. “It’s not like there are some people playing bad. The whole team is playing together and that’s our strength.”
They won their three games against Boston University, Monmouth and the Bonnies by 53.7 points. But Geno Auriemma says there are other to tell if a team is improving than simply watching it devour weaker opponents.
“There’s things you can do, regardless of who the competition is, that can make you stand out as a basketball player,” Geno Auriemma said. “There’s things I see when we’re practicing; you can tell who’s a good basketball player and who’s not. You can tell who has improved and who hasn’t. It doesn’t always have to depend on who you’re playing against.”
After this game, UConn plays only three more times before the league opener against Cincinnati; UC-Davis in Hartford (Thursday), at Duke (Dec. 17) and California at Madison Square Garden (Dec. 22).
Ohio State, in its first season under coach Kevin McGuff – the former Xavier and Washington coach – hosted the other segment of the Hall of Fame Classic that included Old Dominion, Bowling Green and Marist. The Buckeyes struggled to beat Marist Nov. 23 and then lost to Bowling Green on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Huskies are ranked first nationally in assist/turnover ratio (2.23), blocked shots (9.3) and field goal percentage (52.9) and fourth in scoring margin (39.6).
“Our defense has been really good since Hartford [the season opener],” Auriemma said. “I don’t think there has been one game that we haven’t played well defensively. I’ve been thrilled with the way we’ve played.
“Our defensive rotations and positioning has been really good. It hasn’t even been easy for the three [ranked] teams we played [Stanford, Maryland and Penn State] to do anything offensively against us.
They have five players scoring in double-figures, led by sophomore Breanna Stewart (18.9). Senior Stefanie Dolson is averaging 14.0 points and 10.3 rebounds and even is second in assists (35) behind Bria Hartley.
“I told those guys that they should make sure Stefanie gets Christmas presents because when she’s on the floor, she gets all those guys shots. She does such a great job of finding people at the perfect time and she’s just so confident right now,” Auriemma said.
And because of the injuries that continue to sideline Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, playing time for everyone has increased.
Hartley (31.8) and Dolson (31.1) lead the way, but Kiah Stokes (23.6), freshman Saniya Chong (22.6) and Brianna Banks (20.0) have also logged a lot of minutes.
“Who would respond negatively to that if you were used to play 12 or 15 minutes?,” Auriemma said. “The response is what I thought it would be. Everyone responds when you tell them you are going to play more.
“The key will be how they will respond then [Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck ] come back and the minutes go down. At that point it will become a dog fight in practice to get more minutes in games, which is good. It makes us a better team.”
Even freshman walk-on Tierney Lawlor has played 43 minutes in five games, including two first-half appearances last weekend.
“What I have thought about that?,” Lawlor said. “It’s been a lot of fun.’
“Who wouldn’t love the chance to be on the floor like that with four All-Americans,” Auriemma said.