UConn women: Sure it's not the Huskies' defense?
The UConn women have gained their reputation, and rightfully so, by featuring one of the nation's most dynamic offensive units on a yearly basis.
But the top-ranked Huskies can also play defense, as evidenced by their most recent win, a 63-38 road victory over South Florida on Sunday afternoon in Tampa.
And don't think for a second that aspect of the game is lost on coach Geno Auriemma ... or UConn's opponents.
"We just go out and play defense and figure out what we've got to do to stop people and shut them down, and we do it," said Auriemma, whose Huskies (26-0, 13-0) go for their 33rd straight win tonight against Central Florida at the XL Center in Hartford (7 p.m., SNY). "We're able to do something that's hard to do, you know: recruit high school All-Americans that score 16 million points in high school and get them to play defense when they come to college.
"It's not easy to do, but we get them to do it."
Against South Florida, UConn limited the Bulls to just 26 percent shooting (15 of 57). Equally important, the Huskies' injury-depleted lineup (Auriemma played only six players most of the game) was able to limit South Florida without getting into any serious foul trouble.
"They did such a good job defensively without fouling and coming to help to contest shots," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "Where a lot of teams come over to block shots and foul, they didn't do that and we didn't get to the free throw line."
Central Florida (10-15, 3-11) must try to get to the line tonight and perhaps force Auriemma to go deeper into his bench, which is down to only seven scholarship players. The Huskies should get a little more help in their final XL Center appearance tonight because junior guard Brianna Banks (ankle sprain) is expected to return. She would join junior forward Kiah Stokes as the second experienced reserve.
Junior All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (mononucleosis) is expected to be sidelined for at least two more weeks, while sophomore forward Morgan Tuck recently had knee surgery and is out for the season.
Auriemma started freshman Saniya Chong in Mosqueda-Lewis' place against South Florida. The other four starters are all averaging in double figures - forward Breanna Stewart (19.3 points), guard Bria Hartley (15.8), center Stefanie Dolson (12.7) and guard Moriah Jefferson (10.5).
It could be a night of milestones for Stewart and Hartley. Stewart, a sophomore, needs only two points to become the 39th player in program history to reach 1,000 in their career while Hartley, a senior, is three rebounds shy of 500, which would join her with all-time greats Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore as the only UConn players to record 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in their careers.
The Huskies beat Central Florida in Orlando on New Year's Day 77-49. The Knights, who lost to Rutgers 90-50 on Saturday, are led by 5-foot-8 freshman guard Zykira Lewis, who is averaging 11.8 points per game.
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