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    UConn Women's Basketball
    Saturday, June 10, 2023

    UConn women visit East Carolina in search of 94th straight win

    Tulane's Caylah Cruiskshank travels as she tries to get away from the double-team of UConn's Natalie Butler and Napheesa Collier in women's college basketball action Sunday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. The Huskies rolled to win No. 93 in their current winning streak with the 100-56 win over the Green Wave. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Storrs — When the top-ranked UConn women's basketball team returned from its most recent road trip, there was one particular aspect of his team's play that coach Geno Auriemma felt compelled to address.

    The Huskies managed just eight steals in a convincing win at Tulsa and just seven fast-break points. Playing passively has never been part of Auriemma's coaching DNA, and during recent practices he had his teams run through drills that would get them to be more opportunistic on the defensive end.

    While games like Tulsa and Tuesday's game at East Carolina (7 p.m., SNY) won't hinge on the ability of the Huskies to turn defense into offense, Auriemma made it clear that he wanted his team to be more aggressive in jumping into the passing lanes.

    UConn, which looks to extend its NCAA all-division basketball record winning streak to 94 games, came up with a season-high 20 steals the last time out. Auriemma is hoping for more of the same moving forward.

    "These last four or five days we have tried to harp on it a little bit more, about getting in the passing lanes and creating some more opportunities for ourselves defensively," Auriemma said. "We are walking a fine line. We want to get out there and create some transition baskets for ourselves, but at the same time we have to be careful. When you get a game that is called the way (the Tulane game) was called, all of a sudden you are forced to play differently. We can't afford to be as aggressive as I'd like us to be because if we have the wrong guys going to the bench with fouls we are not a very good team."

    The increased defensive pressure could be a sign of how things may look next season when transfers Batouly Camara and Azura Stevens are eligible to play and UConn will welcome incoming freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Lexi Gordon and Megan Walker.

    When UConn had rosters complete with future WNBA players coming off the bench, the Huskies had 14 games with at least 20 steals in a four-year span. Following the graduation of Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph, the Huskies managed six games with at least 20 steals over the next 15 seasons.

    Aggressively going after steals comes naturally to players like Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier, but with other players making it a point of trying to force turnovers, more 20-steal contests could be in UConn's short-term future.

    "We have been working on a lot of defense in the past couple of days," said sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson, who had a career-high seven steals in the win over Tulane. "Coach (Auriemma) said there is no way you had seven steals, but it is a new me. I was just trying to read the defense and get in the passing lanes."

    UConn is somewhat limited in how often during a game it can extend the pressure and go for steals. When all five starters are in the game, it is easier to play that style, but until freshman Crystal Dangerfield returns to the lineup after recovering from a stress reaction in her left foot, it is tougher to play that style when starters head to the bench. Natalie Butler is a true center who is not going to be a player aggressively going after steals, while freshmen Molly Bent and Kyla Irwin are still trying to get comfortable on both ends of the court.

    However, getting opposing teams to play at a faster pace is something that the Huskies want to try to do since it opens up the possibility of the Huskies getting out in transition following turnovers or quick shots by the opponents.

    "We got out, put a lot of pressure on them and got those steals, translated those into offense," UConn junior guard Kia Nurse said. "It is something that is an energy giver for everybody on the team, something that we take pride in and something that we got a lot of points off of (against Tulane)."

    UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson scores two of her game-high 32 points on a fast break layup against Tulane on Sunday at Gampel Pavilion. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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