Lack of depth an issue for No. 1 Huskies

UConn's Megan Walker scores over Maryland's Ieshia Small (1) in a game on Nov. 19 at the XL Center in Hartford. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn's Megan Walker scores over Maryland's Ieshia Small (1) in a game on Nov. 19 at the XL Center in Hartford. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Contrary to what some might believe, UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma does not recruit players to merely sit on the bench and check in for the final few minutes during blowout victories.

Not one of the six players who failed to get into Monday night's victory at Texas were brought to Storrs merely to be glued to the bench. However, as Auriemma has proven over the years, players, even high school All-Americans, not doing the work in practice are going to find it hard to earn quality playing time.

"I don't want to hear about how a kid looks against a really bad team in the last five minutes of a game," Auriemma said Wednesday during a conference call. "That means nothing to me. I want to see how they look when we are practicing here against really good (practice) players. Once that look starts to change, and I hope soon, our depth will change."

UConn will return to Gampel Pavilion to host Tulsa on Thursday night (7 p.m., SNY) followed by road games against struggling Temple and Memphis. Certainly the six players who weren't used in the Texas game will see minutes during the upcoming stretch. The question remains is whether they will do enough in practices and games between now and the end of the month so that Auriemma has the confidence to insert them into challenging February non-conference games against defending national champion South Carolina and No. 2 Louisville.

"People have this perception that coaches love a short bench," Auriemma said. "I don't know any coach that wants to go into any game feeling like they don't have a lot of options. I can't manufacture any kind of solution. ... Our younger players have to get better.

"You could say all you want about the reasons. I am patient up to a point and my patience has about run out. At this point this is the way it is going to be for the rest of the season. If these guys want to change that, they have an opportunity every day to come here and change that."

Freshman Megan Walker won multiple national high school player of the year awards as a senior at Monacan High in Virginia. Classmate Mikayla Coombs was the first freshman off the bench when the Huskies crushed Houston last week. Molly Bent and Kyla Irwin played quality minutes in the 2016-17 season opener. Lexi Gordon drew praise from Auriemma for her work in limited playing time against Houston while Batouly Camara was effective enough to drop 14 points on a talented South Carolina team when she was a freshman at Kentucky.

This is a crucial time for them to carve out roles or run the risk of being little more than glorified walk-ons to close out one-sided games.

"He (Auriemma) is constantly pushing you. He doesn't put you in a box. He is constantly telling you to spread out and use your talents and I hear him yelling all the time attack, attack, attack. I am finally gaining that confidence," Coombs said. "I feel like if I don't attack, he is going to get (upset), so you might as well do it.

"I feel like when the season started we really struggled as a second group going in because nobody really knew what everybody was good at and we are all trying to create on our own. We need to learn that over the course of the season these guys are putting their all out for 35 minutes every night and the five minutes we get every night is our way of showing that we can do this. Kia (Nurse) could be hurt some day, Lou (Katie Lou Samuelson) could sit out a game and one of us has to step up. We have to gain their confidence in order to step up. It is important for us to make the most out of the five minutes that we have."

Samuelson was still having issues with swelling in her left eye Wednesday after being elbowed in the first quarter of the Texas game. If the swelling subsides, her playing time shouldn't be impacted.

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