By JOHN ALTAVILLA, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
5:17 PM EDT, November 2, 2013
STORRS — It takes effort to score nearly 3,000 points in high school, not to mention the requisite initiative, ego and self-absorption to demand the ball and put it precisely where it is designed to go.
It is primarily because Saniya Chong scored prolifically at Ossining (N.Y.) High that she is now playing at UConn. But now that she is there, the only scholarship freshman on the defending national champion, her game must change to fit in.
"I don't think there is any convincing that we have to do," Geno Auriemma said Friday after UConn's 101-35 win over Gannon in the preseason opener at Gampel Pavilion. "I think by virtue of a high school kid deciding that they want to come to Connecticut, they naturally know the days averaging 38 points are over.
"They end up enjoying the fact that there are a lot of other things that they never did in high school. It makes the game more fun."
For Chong, that means playing the type of defense that will get her noticed by her new coaches. And in many respects, improving that skill set was the most important aspect of her debut.
"I think that I'm going to get there," said Chong, who scored three points in 14 minutes and took just four shots. "I'm just a little nervous getting the hang of it right now. Practice is practice, but games are different. Coming out here in my first game I wanted to take it slow." Chong, 5 feet 8, was victimized by the new defensive rules with two quick fouls for hand-checking in her five minutes of play. In the second half, she scored her points and added two rebounds and two steals.
Last season, Moriah Jefferson was one of three UConn freshmen to debut. But her experience beforehand was different.
As gifted an offensive player as she was, Jefferson was also home-schooled in more things than academics; she survived grueling practices stressing nothing more than defense and learned to play it.
Jefferson says she is helping Chong to become a sound defender.
"You have to learn how to adjust, particularly with all of these new rules coming in now," said Jefferson, who scored 13 points Friday. She was one of five Huskies in double figures, led by Breanna Stewart's 21 points.
"I've just tried to help her with it as much as I can by watching what she is doing and reminding her not to do things that might get her into [foul] trouble. But as for [Friday], I can remember how nerve-wracking it was for me to play my first game. And I think she did better than I did last year.
"On the court, talking to her, she wasn't as nervous as I suspected. She made some good plays and she got a good layup in. She missed her first free throw and she never misses free throws so that must have been nerves. Other than that, she played well."
Chong got to watch the UConn machine churn Friday. Led by Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who added 20 points, the Huskies demolished Gannon, one of the best Division II programs in the nation and a defending national semifinalist with five returning starters.
"There are many ways to approach these preseason games," Auriemma said. "You can try to just run up and down the floor and win 150-90 and not care about anything. Or you can just try and work on the things we believe we are going to need to do well down the road.
"I believe we play pretty good defense every year around here, so one of the problems we encounter by playing a team like [Gannon] is that they can't score. It's difficult to concentrate on what we need to do on offense, as well, because it comes too easily."
UConn shot 54.5 percent from the floor, despite making just 4 of 17 three-pointers. Its rebounding margin (50-22) was expected against a team whose tallest player is 6 feet 2. And its defense forced 30 turnovers, holding Gannon to just 12 field goals.
UConn's coaches believe Chong eventually will make as many big plays defensively as offensively. Until then, she is determined to watch and learn.
"I've noticed their eye is always on the ball and they move so quickly," said Chong of how her teammates play defense. "My reaction time is much slower so far. I need to get comfortable with taking the extra step to try and get in front of the ball-handler, or when I approach the ball-handler, figuring out how to stop them from blowing by me. It's so stressful. But I am working on it.
"They don't really kid me a lot about [the early problems]. They just say I have to get better at it."
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