Over the course of his 28 years as UConn coach, Geno Auriemma hasn’t strayed from one of the primary tenets of his philosophy.
Identify the other team’s best players and take them out by making them do things they don’t like to do.
This goal played a big role in UConn’s 91-44 win over DePaul Sunday at Gampel Pavilion.
“It’s in our game plan,” Bria Hartley said. “If you take out the player that runs their offense, it’s hard for [the opponent]; it kind of messes up the whole team.”
Still, it’s easier said than done – at least one might think.
“The simple answer is to say that we really work hard at it,” Auriemma said. “We take great pride is what the scouting report says, what the game plan is. It’s something we’ve imparted on our players over the years.”
Next up is Providence (7-16, 2-8) Tuesday at Alumni Hall in Providence, R.I. There the Huskies will encounter senior guard Symone Roberts, the former New Britain High all-stater. Roberts leads the Friars in scoring (14.8) and assists (105).
The Huskies held Blue Demons guard Brittany Hrynko, the leading scorer in Big East conference play this season, to three points from the foul line. She was 0 of 15 from the floor, 0 of 7 from three.
“We got shots and missed them and we missed them because we were put under duress,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.
The Huskies prevented the Big East’s leading rebounder, Katherine Harry, from getting a single rebound in 28 minutes.
“That’s a function of being focused on not letting her rebound,” Bruno said. “She did a nice job in the last two minutes of fighting [for the ball]. But it still needs to a vigorous attempt to get every rebound.
“If you are the leading rebounder in the Big East, UConn is going to focus on you. You are not going to have the same bang you have against other teams. But zero means zero. It doesn’t mean two, three, four or five. It means zero.
“That is a function of the opposition. Rebounding is in your head, your heart and your guts.”
And UConn specializes in the surgical removal of these organs during games.
“Brittany and Katherine weren’t exactly stellar [Sunday],” Auriemma said. “But they know it and Doug knows it. But Brittany’s not getting a lot help out there, either. So it’s pretty easier to focus on one person, the heart of their team right now.”
Yet this is far from a new phenomenon and the evidence of its roots are buried deep in program lore.
Take the 1997-98 season, for example.
On Feb. 16, 1998 at the Hartford Civic Center, Maine brought the nation’s most dynamic scorer, guard Cindy Blodgett, to town averaging 27.7 points.
Auriemma put Rita Williams and Amy Duran on Blodgett and turned up the heat. Blodgett took only 15 shots and scored a season-low nine points. UConn won by 28.
One month earlier, the Huskies forced reigning All-American Ticha Penicheiro of Old Dominion into seven assists while holding her to nine points.
And there was the night Cal Bouchard, one of the Big East’s top three-point shooters from Boston College, scored only nine points in 36 minutes.
This season, UConn’s pressure has continued to play havoc with a number of standouts on other teams.
Marquette’s Katherine Plouffe, the Golden Eagles leading scorer and rebounder, had not points or rebounds in 21 minutes in Milwaukee on Jan. 13. UConn won by 34. Then on Feb. 5, Plouffe had just four points and three rebounds in 24 minutes. UConn won by 57.
“It’s just a matter of focus,” Stefanie Dolson said. “It’s about never losing sight of what the strength of the opponent is, what they may try to do against you and stopping it.
“Chris Dailey [UConn’s associate coach] always tells us that if a team beats you in a different way it’s not as bad as if they beat you the way it was [described] on the scouting report.
“It’s good to see that we all seem to have that mentality on this team.”
When Auriemma senses his team’s attention is waning, he sometimes threatens them by saying he’ll take away something they really value.
“I tell them we’re not going to watch film or prepare a scouting report [for a game],” he said. “I tell them that if they don’t want to pay attention, they’re going to need to figure it out [how to play an opponent] on their own.
“We’ve done it couple of times. We tell them that if a coach is going to stay up late and take the time to prepare them, they need to have respect for that. They don’t want any of that [not being prepared].
“We tell them that we have good players. And if you have good players working hard you can often force [opponents] into doing things they don’t like to do.
“But that’s only half the battle. The other guy has to play lousy.”