No. 1 UConn women continue to get passing grades
Orlando — Over the years, the UConn women’s basketball team has adapted offenses to fit its personnel and personality. However, one constant has been the ability to have playmakers at multiple positions.
With four starters back from a UConn team that set the NCAA Division I women’s basketball single-season record by dishing out 863 assists, it should not be a surprise that this year’s squad is rather adept at sharing the ball.
Heading into Wednesday’s game at UCF (7 p.m., SNY) the Huskies are just off the record pace from a season ago.
All-American forward Gabby Williams is the team’s leader in assists at 5.0 per game while fellow starting post player Napheesa Collier and All-American wing Katie Lou Samuelson are piling up the assists at a more frequent pace than at any other time during their collegiate careers.
“We have a lot players who make plays for each other and for other people,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “When you watch some other teams play, they are kind of limited as who can make a play.
“It is not just our guards. Most times when you look at basketball closely, when the guards have the ball good things happen and a lot of times when you watch basketball, when they pass it to a big guy on the wing or even in the high post, the offense dies unless that guy shoots it because they can only make plays for themselves. We spend a lot of time looking for and recruiting wing, post players that can make a play and not just for themselves. It’s been like that for a long, long time because I think that is the big key in basketball is when you take your guards out of the equation, what are your forwards going to do?”
Williams was a point guard before she arrived at UConn while Collier and Samuelson were members of nationally ranked high school programs that value the importance of playing an unselfish brand of basketball.
“It is really good because it means you don’t have the ball out of a certain person’s hands in order to get assists for the team, so I think we have really worked on that in practice, everyone completing every pass so everyone can get assists,” Collier said. “It is really rewarding, it is almost better than scoring yourself knowing you got somebody a really good look.”
Williams and guard Kia Nurse recently became the second set of UConn classmates to each have at least 400 assists so they have been looking for and finding their open teammates pretty much from the first day they stepped onto the court.
“I’ve always known how to pass,” Williams said. “I think it is a mentality that I have always had, so it is natural for me. I think it is a lot of our offense, the way we run things. We run things through the middle and we play a lot of high-low so I think our mentality is to have our big guys to want to distribute the ball.
“I love being the point center because when coach (Auriemma) told me my freshman year I was going to stay in the paint, I was like, ‘this is not what I do’ but learning that I can still handle the ball and make those decision has been really fun for me.”
UConn is coming off a 32-assist performance in a win over Cincinnati, the second highest total of the season. It might be difficult to match that number facing one of the most disciplined teams in the American Athletic Conference.
Auriemma has been impressed with the way that second-year UCF coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson has established a style of play for the Knights.
“They play great zone defensively and they are very patient on offense, they are good mid-range shooters and they make the game the way they want to make it,” Auriemma said. “It is hard to get them out of their game. When you go down there you have to make shots early and you have to make a bunch of them and when they get down big you can speed them up. If the game is played at a slow pace than you have a tough time with them.”