UConn Huskies treat old friend Elliott’s Cincinnati team with respect on a snowy night in Storrs

Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott

Winter weather kept the crowd to just over 6,300 last night, but Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies greeted an old friend, as former Husky player and assistant coach Jamelle Elliott brought her Cincinnati team in for their annual conference match up. To Elliott’s credit, her team played with effort, heat and desire, making UConn work for their 80-37 victory.

In a game like this, a recap can be found at virtually any of the Connecticut papers or their websites, so rather than give you another report like that, I am going to focus on a few other things that you might have missed.

The score was really a result more of the talent differential between the two teams than the way they played.

“They came in and played us better than a lot of teams do,” Auriemma commented. A Husky team that likes to pressure the ball and get out and run was held to two fast break points. Beating the press, getting the ball over half court was a goal Elliott set for her team, and they executed it well. Unfortunately, you still have to face the diminishing shot clock when you do get it across.

“Our game plan was to attach their pressure,” Elliott said. “I thought we attacked their pressure pretty well in the backcourt, we got the ball across half court pretty good, but the problem was once we crossed half court. They don’t need a steal in the backcourt, they make sure when you cross halfcourt there’s only eight or nine seconds on the shot clock and then you’ve got to hurry up a shot. They forced that on us more than us turning the ball over in the back court.”

Cincinnati fared particularly well, when factoring in the Bearcats were finishing a brutal stretch of three games; at Rutgers, home versus Notre Dame, followed by at Connecticut. Three in a row versus top ten teams, is difficult for any team, but Elliott approached it methodically and with an idea of what they needed to do to improve.

“I told my team before this three game stretch, look guys, we need to come out of this game with our confidence intact and everyday after the game I want to be able to write some things on the board that I felt we could get better at as a team,” she said. “So far I think our confidence is still intact, and every game I’ve been able to write things on the board that we’re getting better at, and today, I thought our transition defense was pretty good against a team that really likes to get out and run.”

Always a strong suit for Connecticut, defense is really becoming the calling card for this year’s team, according to Elliott. “I haven’t seen them press this well since I’ve been around them. I watched tape on them, I thought their pressure really allowed them to control the game early on and really win the game in the first five minutes with those quick steals and easy layups.” Cincinnati shot 31.8 percent for the game, but if you remove Dayneesha Hollins’ numbers, 7-14 for a game high 18 points, that number drops to 23.3 percent. In addition the Huskies forced 25 turnovers and committed 13 steals.

Hollins was impressive for Cincinnati, scoring 15 first half points on 6-10 shooting. At halftime though, the Huskies adjusted, and she was only 1-4 in the second half. According to Tiffany Hayes, one of several who covered Hollins so well in the second half, Auriemma pointed out Hollins’ success at halftime.

“Coach came in and said one of their players had 15. Once we knew that we had to start shutting everybody down, but especially her because she was their main threat. So when we went out there we had to make sure she wasn’t getting anymore looks.”

Perhaps the best tribute you can give to the job Elliott is doing at Cincinnati is the postgame statement by Auriemma that “tonight I was just really really concerned about our team. I spent a lot of time with Jamelle yesterday and last night, she knows what it entails to come here and play against us.”

In prior years, it has appeared that he has “called off the dogs” when playing friend Elliott, slowing things down and playing to keep the final score as “reasonable” as possible, which UConn does not do against most other teams. This year the Huskies played wire to wire full out, and Auriemma was very respectful of the Bearcats and Elliott postgame.

“I spent a lot of time with Jamelle yesterday and last night, she knows what it entails to come here and play against us,” said Auriemma. “The only time I feel for them [coaches he is friends with like Elliott and DePaul’s Doug Bruno] is when their team doesn’t play well, because if you don’t play well against us, you’ve got no chance. So, the only thing I wish for when I’m playing people that I have a relationship with is that I hope their team plays well. She came in here with an idea; I want to get this done, I want to do this and this during the game, she knows it’s a really difficult situation that they are in. They played Rutgers, Notre Dame, then us, that’s a tough stretch for anybody. She knows she’s on the right track; I just reminded her of that. They came in and played us better than a lot of teams do. I’m hopeful for her, I really am.”

Tiffany Hayes moved past Asjha Jones on the career scoring list at Connecticut last night, and past Kerry Bascom, long an Auriemma favorite, on the three pointers made list. While praising Hayes’ achievements and talking about how well Hayes has played in the last three games in particular, he did note she is the beneficiary of their success, and playing a lot of games too. “Imagine how many Kerry Bascom would have if she played forty games a year,” he quipped.

UConn travels to DePaul for a Saturday contest with another of Auriemma’s friends, Doug Bruno, recently named an assistant coach to Auriemma on the USA senior national team. Cincinnati will welcome St. John’s on Saturday, as Big East conference play continues.

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