UConn women face Texas A&M in Elite Eight tonight
Lincoln, Neb. — The operative numbers for today: 36, 36, 36, 39, 34. The average margin of victory for the UConn women over the last five seasons? Nah. The number of minutes the UConn starters played in Saturday's regional semifinals.
All of which underscores the importance of how tonight's final at Pinnacle Bank Arena is officiated. Connecticut is bereft of depth, making foul trouble an even greater scourge for Geno Auriemma and the land's best team.
"Six players is probably not enough," Auriemma said Sunday, preparing his team for No. 3 Texas A&M in tonight's regional final (9:30 p.m., ESPN).
But six is what he used Saturday.
"I think it's the best team Geno's ever had," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "He doesn't have the depth that some of the other teams had, but I really like what he has. I don't know what other weaknesses they have besides their bench. He doesn't have the numbers because of injuries. (Saturday), I think the starters all played over 30 minutes."
Auriemma could play his starters big minutes Saturday because the Huskies (36-0) committed nine fouls the entire game (to BYU's 19). He spoke at length of how his players needed to play with discipline and intelligence.
"The minute you smack somebody, all of your hard work is negated. So why would you want to work that hard on the defensive end and then be stupid and smack somebody for no reason whatsoever?" Auriemma said. "And after a while they get to understand that if they want to stay in the game, they can't foul. So if that's part of your culture, then it just kind of becomes who you are year after year after year.
"If we allow them to do some of the dumb stuff that other players do, they wouldn't be any better," Auriemma said. "I don't know. I just think that's called coaching. You recruit coachable players and then you coach the hell out of them."
The Huskies have committed 150 fewer fouls (438-588) than their opponents this season. The No. 3 Aggies (27-8) are a drastically different matchup than Brigham Young - much quicker - which adds to Auriemma's concern about fouls, especially on the perimeter.
"I remember (the Final Four in) Minneapolis in 1995, we played six. And in the first half, we had three All-Americans on the bench with fouls. Then the officials went in the locker room and probably looked at each other and said 'we are the dumbest people on the floor today. Not the players.' And in the second half we didn't foul and won the game," Auriemma said. "I think any time you are playing in the NCAA tournament, fouls are a huge issue, because the teams you are playing against are good enough that if you have a couple really good players on the bench, you can't cover for that because the other team is really good.
"Playing really intelligent basketball at this time of the year is probably the most important thing," Auriemma said. "Everybody's tired. Everybody's either in great shape or not. Everybody's got strengths. Everybody's got weaknesses. But generally speaking, the teams that are the most intelligent with their talent are the teams that move on."
Texas A&M, the 2011 national champion, has been the underdog before. The Aggies upset Baylor in the regional final that year after losing to the Bears three times.
"They've got five future WNBA first round draft choices in their starting lineup. Not a doubt unless injuries happen," Blair said. "That's how good those five are. But for 40 minutes Monday night, why not?
"It's like growing up in your driveway as a little kid," Blair said. "You count down 10, 9, 8, 7, and you make that shot. If you sit back and go, 'oh, there's Geno, there's Breanna (Stewart), there's (Stefanie) Dolson, you'll get your butt handed to you."