UConn dominance in Hall of Fame Classic highlight reel for 8-0 season start
Holiday tournaments have their pros and cons. In the case of a team like Connecticut, it is difficult to get quality opponents ready to come to Storrs for three games in three days. A few years ago the “World Vision Classic” included LSU in its participants? no such opponent was a part of the Hall of Fame Classic this past weekend. Boston University, Monmouth, and St. Bonaventure took turns as UConn’s punching bag, while also playing otherwise competitive games against each other.
UConn swept the three games, scoring more than twice the points of their opponents, winning by a combined score of 284 to 123.
Despite having only nine players (seven core players plus two walk-ons), head coach Geno Auriemma was able to limit some of the minutes of his players, and try a few different lineup combinations, run offensive sets and defensive situations the Huskies might use in the future. What this really was, however, was a highlight reel of the strengths of the 2013-14 UConn Huskies featuring their front line’s ability to score, rebound and pass plus their efficient guard play, racking up assists and steals without turning the ball over.
It was only two seasons ago when sophomore Stefanie Dolson was considered the only UConn post teams had to defend, and the concern was that they would be dominated inside. The enrollment of Breanna Stewart at Storrs and the emergence of Kiah Stokes this season has turned the post game into the strongest part of the team.
UConn has outrebounded their opponents by almost ten rebounds per game, with Dolson averaging over ten per game, and Stokes just over nine. They are averaging over nine blocked shots per game, as their defense continually funnels opponents into the long arms of the trio.
“I never thought we’d be playing the three of us at the same time,” Dolson said after the throttling of St. Bonaventure, a game in which the trio combined for 46 points and 21 rebounds. “But it’s great. We’ve been playing so well together, and the fact that Stewie is able to go out on the wing helps us out a lot offensively. We’ve just really clicked with each other, been reading each other well, it’s just really worked well.”
Dolson, the senior, has been playing outstanding basketball in all facets of her game. Her 14 points per game is tied for second on the team, her 10 rebounds per game is tops, and, most surprisingly, her 35 assists are second on the team. She is truly enjoying her role as a playmaker on the offense.
“This year I’m not taking anything for granted,” Dolson said emphatically, “and being able to pass the ball well for Kiah to be able to finish inside, or Stewie to finish inside, it makes me just as happy as me finishing inside. You’ll never see me stop smiling out there, I’m always having fun, regardless of how much we’re up by or who our game is against, I’m always having fun.”
Sophomore Stewart received many of the preseason accolades, coming on the heels of her outstanding performance in last season’s NCAA tournament. She has not disappointed, leading the team in scoring, and being nearly unstoppable at times with her height and length, coupled with the high arch of her shot. “She shoots like Larry Bird,” Auriemma said, describing Stewart’s high release and soft touch.
If there was a question mark coming into the season for UConn, it was in the backcourt. Senior Bria Hartley struggled at times as a junior, with nagging injuries impacting both her game and her confidence, junior Brianna Banks recovering from a knee injury, and the departure of guards Caroline Doty and Kelly Faris through graduation.
Sophomore Moriah Jefferson and freshman Saniya Chong, along with Banks, had little game exposure, and were thrust into the mix immediately. With the exception of a few early jitters against Stanford (Jefferson) and Maryland (Chong), the trio has performed as well as could be expected. Combined they have 50 assists to only 28 turnovers, and have shot 54 percent from the floor.
However, it is Hartley who has really stepped up her game, and is playing with the confidence she showed as a sophomore. While her three-point shot has been inconsistent at times, she has stopped turning the ball over, and has an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.7-to-1. She has done this while defending the top perimeter player of the opponent, including All-Americans Alyssa Thomas of Maryland and Maggie Lucas of Penn State.
UConn has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in the absence of injured All-American candidate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sixth man Morgan Tuck. The first stretch was crowded and difficult, but with second-ranked Duke on the horizon, as well as California, they will have to continue to play at a high level to remain unbeaten.
Auriemma is not surprised by how his team has played without Mosqueda-Lewis and Tuck, but, he said when they come back things will change.
“Who’s going to respond negatively if you’re playing 12 minutes and someone says you’re now going to play 20-25 minutes?” Auriemma asked. “The key is going to be when those two guys come back, how are they going to respond.”