Geno’s con­cern

UConn’s de­fense fall­ing a bit short of team’s el­e­vated stan­dards

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Kelli Stacy

UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma spent most of Fri­day’s prac­tice em­pha­siz­ing de­fense, an as­pect of the game the coach feels is not up to par. “This is one of those years where ev­ery sin­gle thing that is a pos­i­tive with our team has a neg­a­tive at­tached to it,” Auriemma said. “There isn’t any­thing that’s all this way or half pos­i­tive, half neu­tral. It’s ei­ther a lot pos­i­tive and a lot neg­a­tive or some com­bi­na­tion of those two things, so I’ve got to find a way to deal with that.” Sports,

Throw­ing his hands up in the air, Geno Auriemma let out a yell of frus­tra­tion.

His team had just ex­e­cuted per­fectly on de­fense, swat­ting the ball away and get­ting out in tran­si­tion. Katie

Lou Sa­muel­son launched a long pass to Me­gan

Walker, who bob­bled the ball be­fore hav­ing it stolen away in the paint.

The sounds com­ing from

Gam­pel Pavil­ion on Fri­day were that of a team that can play ex­tremely good bas­ket­ball, but also make sim­ple mis­takes. At var­i­ous points, the gym erupted in cheers for a steal by Crys­tal Danger­field or a block by Walker, al­most al­ways fol­lowed by a groan from Auriemma 10 min­utes later when things stopped run­ning smoothly.

It’s mo­ments like this that Auriemma was talk­ing about ear­lier in the week, de­scrib­ing UConn as in­ca­pable of do­ing one thing all good or all bad. It’s a sea­son, he con­ceded, where the team can’t rely on one part of its game be­ing per­fect.

“This is one of those years where ev­ery sin­gle thing that is a pos­i­tive with our team has a neg­a­tive at­tached to it,” Auriemma said. “There isn’t any­thing that’s all this way or half pos­i­tive, half neu­tral. It’s ei­ther a lot pos­i­tive and a lot neg­a­tive or some com­bi­na­tion of those two things, so I’ve got to find a way to deal with that.”

In prac­tice on Fri­day, the Huskies focused a lot on de­fense — some­thing they didn’t have prob­lems with against Cincin­nati, but that hasn’t been their strong point this sea­son. They played

Cincin­nati – UConn plays at Cincin­nati, con­tin­u­ing the ri­valry that be­gan when both schools were in the Big East. It has been an ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive se­ries, though Cincin­nati has won the last five meet­ings, since the mem­o­rable four-OT UConn victory in the 2016 con­fer­ence tour­na­ment, by an av­er­age mar­gin of 15.4 points.

The Bearcats have been con­sis­tent win­ners un­der coach Mick Cronin (left) , with a new core of play­ers al­ways wait­ing to step in. This group is still find­ing it­self, but at 13-3 is cer­tainly on pace for a re­turn to the NCAA Tour­na­ment. UConn, com­ing off a win over SMU, brings a lit­tle mo­men­tum. It’s a short turn­around for both teams, Cincin­nati win­ning at Tulsa in OT on Thurs­day night. This is the Huskies’ first visit to the re­fur­bished cam­pus arena.

Fun fact: Cincin­nati’s as­so­ciate head coach, Darren Savino, played at St. An­thony’s High in Jersey City, where Bob Hur­ley Sr. was the coach, and Dan and Bobby Hur­ley his team­mates in 1989.

Here’s all you need to know about the matchup: Site: Fifth Third Arena, Cincin­nati

Day/Time: Sat­ur­day, 8 p.m.

Se­ries: Tied, 13-13

Last meet­ing: Cincin­nati, 77-52, at North­ern Ken­tucky, Feb. 22, 2018

TV: ESPN 2 (Mike Corey, Mark Wise)

Ra­dio: UConn IMG Ra­dio Net­work (Mike Crispino, Wayne Nor­man); 97.9 ESPN Hart­ford, WINE 940 AM, WGCH1490 AM, WICC 600 AM, WAVZ1300 AM, WXLM 980 AM, WATR1320 AM, WILI 1400 AM, 95.3 FM. Jar­ron Cum­ber­land, G, 6-5, Jr.; Keith Wil­liams, G, 6-5, So.; Tre Scott, F, 6-8, Jr.; Nysier Brooks, C, 6-11, Jr.; Justin Jenifer, G, 5-10, Sr.; Cane Broome, G, 6-0, Sr. Al­terique Gil­bert, G, 6-0, So.; Jalen Adams, G, 6-3, Sr.; Chris­tian Vi­tal, G, 6-2, Jr.; Tyler Pol­ley, F, 6-8, So.; Josh Carl­ton, C, 6-9, So.; Tarin Smith, G, 6-3, GS. we de­fend and re­bound the ball and don’t turn it over, we should have a chance in the sec­ond half, even against one of the bet­ter teams like Cincin­nati.”

Look­ing back, and ahead, here are some take­aways:

Un­lock­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties

The idea that Jalen Adams and Al­terique Gil­bert could be the Huskies next great guard tan­dem, the new Shabazz Napier-Ryan Boa­tright, has been in the air for more than 21Ž2 years. The com­bi­na­tion of Gil­bert’s in­juries and Adams’ re­cent strug­gles have de­layed it. Both played well in a victory Thurs­day against a good op­po­nent. The clock is tick­ing, but if they can make the most of their last two months to­gether, it would be some­thing worth watch­ing.

On de­fense, no rest

The de­fense Hur­ley in­stalled has been pretty con­sis­tent. When op­po­nents have posted good shoot­ing per­cent­ages, it has often been skewed by the num­ber of live-ball turnovers and easy bas­kets. TheSMUgame was more rep­re­sen­ta­tive. UConn had a good plan, to keep SMU’s best perimeter shoot­ers, McMur­ray in par­tic­u­lar, from get­ting un­fet­tered looks. Smith and Gil­bert helped keep McMur­ray, 5-for-18, 1-for-9 on threes, well below his av­er­ages. Sid Wil­son came up with three blocks. The Huskies turned 10 turnovers into 13 points. SMU shot 34.8 per­cent, 3for-23 on threes – a good night for UConn de­fense.

Some hope up front

Josh Carl­ton, with eight points and seven re­bounds, at last gave the Huskies a glim­mer of pro­duc­tion in the front court. Hur­ley called it his best game against a qual­ity op­po­nent and cer­tainly it was. Carl­ton was 3-for-4 from the floor, one of sev­eral to make mod­est of­fen­sive con­tri­bu­tions that added up to be just enough to com­ple­ment the guards. SMU had to guard a few more play­ers. …. Now, about re­bound­ing: SMU 41, UConn 26.

Up next, Cincin­nati

UConn has only one day to fly to Cincin­nati and pre­pare for one of the tough­est road games of the sea­son, in the Bearcats’ new arena. Huskies teams have not won in Cincin­nati since both teams were in the Big East. The Bearcats (13-3) were up­set at East Carolina on Sat­ur­day, and went to OT to win at Tulsa on Thurs­day night, as East Hart­ford’s Cane Broome came off the bench to score 16, hit­ting a game-ty­ing 3-pointer with 1.2 sec­onds left in reg­u­la­tion. Jar­ron Cum­ber­land is av­er­ag­ing 16.9 points for the de­fend­ing con­fer­ence champs.

“High-level dudes love get­ting on the road and try­ing to si­lence a big crowd,” Hur­ley said. “Hope­fully, we’ve got some high-level dudes.”

Afew tid­bits

Akok Akok was at the game, sit­ting be­hind the bench, as the de­tails of his en­roll­ment at UConn con­tinue to be worked out. The tar­get is for him to start classes Jan. 22 and join the team as a non­schol­ar­ship player, to prac­tice and work with the Huskies. There are no plans for him to play this sea­son. … Ma­madou Diarra, who had knee surgery last July, stretched and warmed up with the team be­fore the game Thurs­day, but he is not close to re­turn­ing to ac­tion. … Fresh­man Bren­dan Adams did not get into the game for UConn. Hur­ley said he just “short­ened the ro­ta­tion” for SMU.

STEPHEN DUNN/AP

UConn women vs. USF Sun­day: Gam­pel Pavil­ion, 1 p.m., ESPN

Coach Dan Hur­ley was pleased with UConn’s de­fense, which held SMU to 34.8 per­cent shoot­ing Thurs­day.

ELAINE THOMP­SON/AP

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