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    Friday, September 29, 2023

    Is UConn ready for more than a cameo in New Orleans? Not yet

    Nobody else ever identified the mortal sin of sports watching better than Jim Calhoun, who frequently reminded us that sports are about motion pictures, not Polaroids. Translation: Judgments should be based on the season's evolution, not a mere snapshot.

    And the theory should apply to the UConn women, too. Nothing of note has happened yet this season for a program evaluated by what happens at the Final Four. Good thing for the Huskies. Because 2013's two primary snapshots are gory.

    The Huskies have lost to No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Notre Dame. At home. That makes UConn no better than the third best team. Happily for the Huskies, no trophies will be presented until early April.

    But here we are, Feb. 20, and the UConn women are a pretender. Period. This season has been more failure than success, based on the following: the aforementioned home losses, the alarming regression of freshman Breanna Stewart and the general lack of anything productive in big games from Caroline Doty.

    If that doesn't change, the Huskies may still get to New Orleans, but for nothing more than a cameo.

    Doty, a senior, was yanked frequently Monday night in favor of spitfire Mo Jefferson, a fun-to-watch freshman who isn't ready for Odyssey Sims and Skylar Diggins just yet. How bad has Doty been? Digest the following numbers from Carl Adamec, the dean of UConn beat writers:

    In Doty's last three games against Baylor: 58 minutes, zero points.

    In Doty's last four games against Notre Dame, 82 minutes, zero points.

    And it's not like UConn coach Geno Auriemma is asking Doty to channel her inner Maya. Just run the offense and make one of the several yawningly open shots defenses give her.

    "Caroline Doty came to the bench (Monday) and said, 'Man, I'm a dumbass tonight,'" Auriemma said. "I said, 'You're a dumbass a lot of nights. Tonight just happened to be a real important night.' She knows that if she's not doing what she needs to be doing, running the offense and knocking down open shots, there's no point in her being on the floor."

    Note to Caroline: You're a senior. It's time.

    Stewart, conversely, requires more patience. She gets to be a freshman, just like all the other freshman. It's just that she's burdened by the expectations she brought here as the nation's No. 1 high school player.

    Stewart is a player without a position. She is not ready physically to be a forward in a big time game. She doesn't handle the ball well enough to be a guard. Hence, her notable skills haven't always translated. And it has showed against Notre Dame, Baylor and other quality teams.

    Stewart is a cautionary tale for all of us who follow the UConn women: We get fooled into thinking players are progressing when we watch them fertilize some bowser from the Big East.

    "When you're a young player, and I've seen it happen, and you get stunned at some point, it takes a lot of time to recover," Auriemma said. "I don't know exactly when it happened, but right now, Breanna Stewart's mind isn't going to let her be the kind of player I think she can be. Maybe a month from now that changes.

    "Right now, it's not good up there," he said, alluding to Stewart's head. "There are things physically she's struggling with on a regular basis. The guy that can't hit curveballs, it gets into his head and then he can't hit any pitch."

    Auriemma has to figure out a way for Stewart to contribute. Her offense is too important. In big games, UConn can't win if Stefanie Dolson, Kelly Faris and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis are the only consistent scorers.

    If Stewart can't function in the post because of her strength issues, play her on the perimeter. She can't pick and pop - set a ball screen and then find an open area to shoot?

    Auriemma said after Monday's game that his team is "ready to win this kind of game" but just "isn't smart enough yet." He stressed a collective effort. It would help if the collective effort had two more individual parts: Stewart and Doty.

    Notre Dame is beatable. So is Baylor, believe it or not. But not if both those teams can pick and choose which UConn players to guard. Stewart and Doty have so much more to give. They have seven weeks left. It's time.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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