STORRS — Here is some insight about gauging team maturity from Geno Auriemma, coach of the undefeated, defending national champion and top-ranked Huskies.
"I can tell in early November whether we have a mature team or not by how long it takes to take the team picture," Auriemma said. "You know, if you are dealing with a team of 12-year-old kids, it can take like a half hour for you to get them to keep quiet, stand in the right spot … they just don't know how to be serious and when it is time to be serious.
"And then there are times when it takes 35 seconds to do. Everyone sits down, gets ready and boom, smile, one, two, three – it's over."
Auriemma said the 2013-14 team picture was over in a minute. So he knew then he had a team that understood how to take care of business.
"I have not seen this team go overboard and be in the dumps about anything," Auriemma said. "It is not easy to do for five months, stay on the same emotional plane. And a lot of that has to do with our seniors [Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley].
"Stefanie hasn't had a bad day in four years. There's not one day when she's come to practice and the coaches have had to ask her what her problem is. Not once. Not one time. And I don't think anyone realizes how hard that is and how important that is to the team.
"The seniors are right on top of things."
To a great extent, the leadership of the seniors, both All-Americans, is responsible for where the Huskies find themselves Tuesday at Gampel Pavilion when they play St. Joseph's in the second round.
"We are a good team," Hawks guard Natasha Cloud said. "We had our peaks, we've had our lows. But if we just stick with our game, what we do best, everything else will fall into place."
If UConn (35-0) wins its 42nd consecutive game, it will advance to the Lincoln regional semifinals on Saturday.
The Huskies took the first step on Sunday with a workmanlike drubbing of No. 16 Prairie View. The Huskies won by 43 (87-44) and shot 55.2 percent with 11 three-pointers. All five starters scored in double figures.
If there was a soft spot, it was the way the Huskies handled the ball.
"I made some dumb passes that almost resulted in turnovers," Breanna Stewart said.
After not playing since March 10 in the AAC championship against Louisville, UConn had 18 turnovers to just 11 for the Panthers, who finished 14-18.
"I don't think it has to do with forgetting anything. Nobody forgets how to pass, how to cut, how to screen," Auriemma said. "What happens is you might throw the ball to someone before they are ready or after they are ready to catch it. Maybe you don't get to a defensive spot on time and end up fouling. It's more about not being able to get immediately into game mode. Practice is one thing, games are another.
St. Joseph's (23-9) advanced to the second round with a 67-57 win over Georgia. It was the Hawks' first NCAA Tournament win since 2000 and set up the first matchup with UConn since Dec. 21, 2003. They were eliminated in overtime by George Washington in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament.
"We gave it the night to celebrate," said Erin Shields, the Hawks senior guard. "We got back to the hotel and felt happy with our win. But then you wake up and move on to UConn. And that is what we are doing."
Shields scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the first half of Sunday's win. Ashley Robinson, the 6-2 junior forward, had 10 points and 10 rebounds and the Hawks only trailed for 1:56.
In her 13th season at St. Joseph's, coach Cindy Griffin is approaching the game as most of UConn's opponents have during the championship era. She is looking at the bright side.
"It's no secret that UConn is the best team in the country," Griffin said. "We are looking at this as an opportunity … If you are going to play in the tournament, then why not play the best and challenge yourself."
The Hawks will be facing a deep team, one that likely will be filled with emotion as Hartley and Dolson play the final home game of their careers.
"I think you can tell that the dynamic of the team changes when they are not out there," Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said.
Stewart (19.7), Hartley (16.4), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (12.4), Dolson (12.3) and Moriah Jefferson (10.1) combine for 70.9 points for the Huskies, the most by a starting lineup in team history.
"They've been able to withstand a lot,'' Auriemma said. "They know they have to play well. They know they have to stay out of foul trouble. They know they have to execute. So they come into the tournament with a lot of confidence in themselves and a lot of confidence in each other. And at this time of year I don't know that there's anything more important than confidence in yourselves and your teammates.''Copyright © 2015, CT Now