There is a lot you can tell about a basketball team after eight games, especially if its 0-8. After all, if you can’t finish the salad, what’s to be expected when steak is served?
Winning eight games does not a championship make. And No. 2 UConn still has heavy lifting ahead, beginning with a real load, No. 1 Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., on December 29.
That game – and those that follow against Notre Dame and Baylor – will peel away the epidermis and show what’s inside the Huskies.
But there are a few things that already seem clear:
Talent takes time
This applies to UConn’s three freshmen – Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson – and the adaptation of the work ethic Geno Auriemma wants his entire team to make second-nature.
For instance, here is Auriemma’s philosophy on the offensive rebound and why his team may not perform the task very well:
“It’s not a mystery that teams which make a lot of outside shots tend to think that everything is going in, and they don’t work as hard as they need to on offensive rebounding. Sometimes that happens to us.
“Teams that struggle from the outside, work their butts off on offensive rebounding because they understand it can give them another opportunity [to score].”
The sophomore is a supremely gifted offensive player, capable of breaking open a game in four blinks.
“She come down the floor four times, score 12 points [on four threes] and boom, the game is over,” Auriemma says.
But Mosqueda-Lewis has been working extremely hard on other aspects of her game that don’t come as easily. And as she does this, she has become acutely aware that her teammates are watching her, looking for signs that she is as committed as she says she is.
“I have been working hard all year to earn everyone’s trust, not only his [Auriemma],” she said. “I’ve tried to change as a player, change as a teammate. And I think I’ve done an all right job to this point. I am still trying.
“I didn’t have a good practice the other day and I said, ‘I don’t want you guys to stop believing in me. I wasn’t very good today. It’s not going to be like this anymore. I will come back, I will talk … it won’t happen again.’”
UConn’s opponents seem to believe they can beat the Huskies by beating them up. Maryland said it and tried it and so did Penn State. Why shouldn’t the Huskies think Notre Dame, Stanford and Baylor will put up their dukes? Maybe even Duke will.
Auriemma wants his players to engage along the front lines, which he made clear when talking about how Stewart needs to learn the facts of strife.
“Breanna does have a tendency to float. She has the talent to do that, until people start knocking her around,” Auriemma said. “Then she needs to respond. .. There comes a point that you need to respond. We just need to teach her what the right response is.
“When Rebecca [Lobo] was a freshman, she would sneak out to the three-point line and launch one,. But that’s not responding like a tough guy. When you are getting beat up, you go into the lane and foul them out. Then you don’t have to worry about getting beat up anymore.”
The Huskies have something UConn’s football and men’s basketball team don’t have; the national swag to operate successfully no matter what conference the university lands.
It is clear, now that it has SNY by its side, that the UConn women could operate successfully as an independent, much like Notre Dame football does. The program does not need a conference affiliation to attract recruits, garner attention or win national championships. All they would need is a hall pass from the Big East, should it live that long.
This is not the reality, however. Even Auriemma admits that scheduling 30 games would be a monumental task without the fallback of a conference to complement the non-conference games. But wouldn’t it be fun to watch him try.
Rotation In Motion
Auriemma does not share the opinion that among his Top 10 players are two teams of five that can compete, individually, for a national championship.
“My players 5 thru 9 couldn’t beat a good intramural team,” Auriemma joked.
Truth is, his 5 to 9 can beat two-thirds of the Big East’s 1 to 5 and give them six points to boot.
“If you don’t have eight, you have to zig-and-zag [for success],” Auriemma said. “Some of our younger players are good, but they are even better when they are out there with our older players.
“But on this year’s team, if you get a chance to play, and you play well, you are going to have a chance to keep playing.”
Perhaps thru the first week of April, as usual.