Generally speaking, UConn’s season is off to a pleasing start. The Huskies are 19-1 overall, 6-1 in the Big East. That’s excellent, even compared to the program’s lofty standards.
The only thing separating them from perfection and the top spot in the national polls is their one-point loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 5.
On Saturday, the last third of the regular-season begins with the first of UConn’s 10 remaining games – St. John’s (10-9, 6-3) at the Carneseca Arena in Queens, N.Y.
“I think things are going well for us right now,” Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “We’re still trying to find our flow, in terms of getting the substitutes in with no drop-off in play. I think we’re getting there.
“It’s getting into February, and when February comes you want to be a different team than you were in December or January. We need to make sure we’re taking steps forward.”
The Huskies travel to St. John’s already the Big East’s most statistically superior team. They lead the conference in 10 categories and are second in two others.
They lead the nation in five categories, including scoring (82.5) and defense (46.5). They have the nation’s top percentage shooter, Stefanie Dolson (61.2) and its second-best three-point shooter, Mosqueda-Lewis (50.8).
But according to Geno Auriemma and his players there are a number of aspects that need to be improved before the Big East tournament begins in March at the XL Center.
“There are a lot of different types of teams still on the schedule,” Auriemma said.
Heading that list will be battles against No. 1 Baylor (Feb. 18 at the XL Center) and No. 2 Notre Dame (March 4 in South Bend, Ind.)
Should both UConn and Notre Dame reach that point as is, the Huskies will have to win that game, on Skylar Diggins’ senior night, to earn a share of the Big East regular-season championship. A coin flip would them determine the first seed for the conference tournament.
Auriemma is growing more confident in his starting five; Dolson, Bria Hartley, Caroline Doty, Kelly Faris and Mosqueda-Lewis.
“We are at a good point now,” said Faris. “We’ve been building from the Duke game [UConn’s 30-point win on Jan. 21]. There are little things, little habits we are working to break before the season ends.
“Those kind of things do not get solved in a day. Sometimes that’s hard to wrap our minds around that. We just want to fix things quickly and coach gets mad at us at times.”
Mostly, Auriemma wants to see more consistency from his second five so he can feel better about dipping into the bench.
“The rest of it depends on [freshman] Breanna Stewart becoming more aggressive. And we need [freshman] Morgan Tuck to improve. Our bench needs to develop more reliability offensively so they can give us something. They [the reserves] need to be more productive. We need to know exactly what we are going to get from them and they need to bring it every night.”
Stewart, already a three-time Big East Freshman of the Week, is averaging 14.5 points and leading the team in rebounding (7.0) and blocks (32).
“We’re all pretty comfortable in what is expected from us,” Stewart said.
Tuck (knee) and sophomore center Kiah Stokes (stress reaction in left shin) have been in and out of the lineup this season. Tuck is averaging only 14.4 minutes in 17 games; Stokes has played 12.4 in 14 games.
Auriemma has also been concerned about turnovers. Before picking up only nine in Tuesday’s win over Villanova, the Huskies had been averaging 14.8 in the eight previous games.
Still, UConn’s point production has been so good, Auriemma says he’s willing to overlook some of the mistakes made in the chase.
“When you score 85 points a game, like we do, 14 turnovers a game is not a lot,” Auriemma said. “It’s not a lot at all, depending on how many shots you get. Against Villanova, we had 60 shots and nine turnovers and that’s really good.
“It’s [14 turnovers] maybe one or two too many, but it’s still not bad. What’s more important to me is when they come and how important they are [to the outcome]. The number is not important, as long as we are scoring. If we averaging 60 points and 14 turnovers, then I would say we’d have a lot of problems.
“It’s not as bad as I make it sound, at times.”