The points come quickly, on 3-point shots in transition or fast-break baskets off turnovers.
For inferior opponents, which is every team UConn will face this season, there is no easy way to slow the tide. For American Athletic Conference opponents faced with the monumental task of controlling the Huskies, it’s beyond daunting.
How’s this for an approach? Keep the ball out of UConn’s hands.
As the Huskies opened the conference schedule with a 97-49 victory over Memphis Sunday, the No. 1 team in the country was already combating what might be ahead. UConn, unbeaten in the AAC, figures to see opponents attempt to slow games down.
The answer on Sunday was an aggressive, pressing defense. UConn scored 24 points off turnovers, as Memphis turned it over 18 times overall and 13 times in the first half, when the game was put out of reach by the Huskies.
This was no accident.
“What we’re going to see a lot of times is teams trying to use up the shot clock and try to limit how many possessions there are in the game,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “So we’re going to try to do whatever we can to try and speed up the game, disrupt the game a little bit, and create some opportunities for ourselves.”
The mindset was fueled by Gabby Williams, perhaps the best defender in the country. The athletic Williams was all over the court, moving through passing lanes and disrupting Memphis at every turn.
Williams had four of UConn’s 12 steals and was a menace throughout all of her 32 minutes. And her approach was contagious.
“It’s always great when you have all five guys on the floor looking to get steals or looking to get in the passing lane,” Williams said. “It seemed like everyone was on the same page [Sunday].”
Not that it comes naturally to this particular group of Huskies.
“We’re not a really great pressing team,” Auriemma said. “That’s not who we are. So we have to kind of figure out how we can speed it up. We’re not great at pressing and we don’t spend a lot of time on it. I don’t know that our guys are texting me everyday, saying ‘Coach, can we press more?’ I don’t think so.”
Maybe they will when they see the results. The Huskies were 44 of 72 (61.1 percent) and they took 39 shots in the first half.
With so much offensive skill, UConn needs lots of possessions. That will start on the other end of the floor.
“If we can come out of every game with 80 shots, that’s pretty good,” Auriemma said. “We’re going to make our share, obviously.”
Other takeaways from win No. 11:
Happy At Home
UConn’s win at the XL Center was its 71st consecutive home victory, the third longest in NCAA history behind the program’s streak of 99 (2007-12) and Stanford’s run of 82 (2007-12). UConn is also 164-13 in Hartford and has won 87 of 90 at the XL Center.
“They’re not going to lose games in this building,” Memphis coach Melissa McFerrin said. “I don't think … they're going to lose one on their home court.”
Four of UConn’s next five games are on the on the road: East Carolina, USF, Houston and Texas, with just one home game against UCF (Jan. 9) over the next two weeks.
But six of the final 10 games are at home.
As she evolved into an All-America player last season, Napheesa Collier was defined by her consistency and efficiency. She was almost automatic around the basket, continually converting shots in the paint as she compiled one of the best field goal percentages (67.8) in the country.
Entering Sunday, her field goal percentage was 50.8. She was taking more perimeter shots, but she was also missing more shots around the basket.
Collier was still averaging 15.2 points and reached double figures in nine of 10 games. But on Sunday, her performance was reminiscent of last season — 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting, with nine rebounds and three assists. She only went to the free throw line twice, so her point total could have been higher had she drawn more fouls.
But it was an encouraging afternoon for Collier, whose game is most impacted by the presence of Azura Stevens. With the 6-foot-6 Stevens often occupying the same space where Collier thrived last season, there is the need for an adjustment.
“We can’t have what we had last year because the dynamics have changed,” Auriemma said. “It’s not going to look exactly the same. We’re just trying to make sure that she gets as many touches as she did last season. She has to make sure that she takes advantage of it. I thought [Sunday] she took the ball to the basket more than she has and that’s something that we’ve been trying to stress with here.”
Swarming The Basket
UConn had 16 offensive rebounds and notched 18 second-chance baskets. Overall, the Huskies outrebounded Memphis 46-16.
That’s partly because UConn is simply bigger than Memphis. But the offensive rebounds were also the product of effort and mindfulness.
“We generally don’t do a good job in that department,” Auriemma said. “We shoot and run back because we think it’s going in all the time. So it’s been a little bit of an emphasis in practice and I’m glad it showed today.”
Back From Break
One player after another said they relished the Christmas break, as the team disbanded for a few days and the college kids returned home for the holiday.
There were five full days away from basketball, as the Huskies returned to practice Thursday. Players admitted they were a bit winded those first few days, but the energy level — physically and mentally — was high.
It showed Sunday. Williams, who enjoyed her time with family in Reno, had 20 points and was all over the court. The break, she said, was necessary for the entire team.
But, it also served as a reminder of what they were missing.
“The great players will miss it,” Williams said. “There will be people that will wish they were still home and then there will be people that can’t wait to get back. I think all of us, we can’t wait to get back and we were ready to re-attack and start the New Year off right.”
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