Defense has been UConn women's calling card
During the 2010s, the UConn women’s basketball team finished outside the Top 10 in scoring nationally once — during Maya Moore’s senior season when it was 13th — and led the country four times.
Not surprisingly, the Huskies’ six leading scorers on their all-time list played during the decade.
The 2020s have not started off so well. After a 74-31 American Athletic Conference rout of Tulane at the XL Center on Wednesday, UConn’s offense checked in at No. 20 at 76.6 points per game.
But maybe the Huskies’ defense can be the key if they are to make a run at a 13th consecutive NCAA Final Four berth next month. With a lockdown of the Green Wave, UConn (22-3 overall, 12-0 AAC) moved up to 10th nationally in scoring defense at 54.0 points per game. It is also ninth in field-goal percentage defense at 34.0.
UConn returns to action on Saturday for its Senior Day contest with Central Florida at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies can clinch the AAC regular season title outright and earn the No. 1 seed for the AAC tournament with a victory.
“The last week, we have really been harping on some defensive stuff,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “For the last two months, I’d bet you 80 percent of our practices are on offense, which is hard to believe when you watch us in some of these games that we spend that much time on our offense every day. I figured there is one way to make our offense better — stop working on it and let’s just focus on creating something off our defense.
“We have a lot of stuff to navigate. We aren’t big enough. We don’t have somebody to take (Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s) place if she gets in foul trouble. We aren’t thick enough to move bodies around. So we have to be creative. We are always trying to find another way to be more creative.”
UConn held Tulane to 20 percent shooting from the floor and to 20 points over the game’s final 34 minutes. The Huskies’ previous low for points allowed was 37 at Dayton in November.
“I can feel our defense getting better,” UConn forward Megan Walker said. “I think everyone is paying attention to detail and everyone is helping each other. We’re all helping the helper. I feel like our transition defense has been better, too. It’s all stuff we are working on in practice and we realize we have to get better at it.”
The Huskies ranked in the Top 10 in scoring defense each year of the 2010s — leading the country five times including three seasons in a row 2014-16 — before dropping to 22nd a year ago. Of course, that team had the highest scoring classmates in NCAA history in All-Americans Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson (4,743 points) and they were able to return to the Final Four.
In UConn’s three losses this season to No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 Baylor, and No. 3 Oregon, its defense held its opponent under its scoring average but the Huskies’ offense was stuck in the 50s.
“The big thing against the really good teams is being able to sustain (defensive intensity) for 40 minutes,” Auriemma said. “If you look at the games we lost, except the Oregon game, both of those games were lost because our offense was really really bad. The Oregon game was lost because defensively we were horrendous. So except for that game, it has really been better than I thought.
“I’ve been surprised. So we’re trying to get it where we can do more things. Right now we play pretty much a certain way all the time. As you get into the tournament, you’ve got to be able to do a couple different things. You don’t know what you’re going to see, plus you want to do things a little differently than what you did in the regular season. So we are trying to add little tweaks to our defense that will take a few weeks to completely fine tune. So every day we have been focusing on that.”
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