Huskies try­ing to find the right fit

New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT) - - SPORTS - By Doug Bon­jour


1 P.M. (ESPN)

STORRS — Geno Auriemma has teetered into un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory — be­tween a rock and a hard place.

“I’ve been strug­gling a lit­tle bit try­ing to fig­ure out where to go with that,” Auriemma said Wed­nes­day, his head down, speak­ing slowly. “We’re kind of in a lit­tle bit of a co­nun­drum, so to speak.”

Auriemma, 1,040 wins, 19 Fi­nal Fours, 11 na­tional ti­tles and all, is run­ning out of an­swers when it comes to divvy­ing up play­ing time for UConn’s bench.

“We have guys that need to play, and I know that,” he con­tin­ued. “When they play, they don’t play the way I ex­pect them to play. And then if I keep play­ing them, they think that play­ing like that is OK. And then if I don’t play them, then I’m not giv­ing them an op­por­tu­nity to get bet­ter. It’s a fine line that I’m try­ing to fig­ure out.”

Right now, 14 games into the sea­son, there is no easy an­swer. The Huskies’ bench, un­der­per­form­ing and sel­dom-used, has be­fud­dled the Hall of Fame coach. Con­fi­dence and trust in the unit have waned.

The Huskies, ranked No. 3 in the coun­try, are 13-1 largely on the strength of their starters. Crys­tal Danger­field, Christyn Wil­liams, Katie Lou Sa­muel­son, Napheesa Col­lier and Me­gan Walker, who missed two games with strep throat, have proven to be not only pro­duc­tive, but also ul­tra-durable. Con­sider this: They’ve ac­counted for 89 per­cent of the team’s scor­ing while play­ing an av­er­age of 32.9 min­utes.

Auriemma isn’t in a sit­u­a­tion, though, where he can sit one of them with­out hes­i­ta­tion. He doesn’t have that lux­ury given the volatil­ity of his bench, a unit that’s been out­played more times than not this sea­son.

For­ward Kyla Ir­win’s best ef­fort came as a starter, when she stepped in for Walker and pulled down a ca­reer-high 10 re­bounds over 25 min­utes in a 98-42 win at St. Louis. The ju­nior’s played 13.8 min­utes a game, slightly ahead of Olivia Nel­son-Ododa, a 6-foot-5 fresh­man av­er­ag­ing 4.3 points and 2.6 re­bounds across 10.4 min­utes.

“There’s been some great play­ers that didn’t start for us and came off the bench and changed the game tremen­dously,” Auriemma re­called Fri­day be­fore prac­tice at Gam­pel Pavil­ion. “Nyke­sha Sales or Di­ana Taurasi her fresh­man year, or Asjha Jones or Tamika Wil­liams or Shea Ralph, I can go on and on how many guys we used to bring off the bench who just lit it up when they came in.”

But now?

“The re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion is we’re not in that sit­u­a­tion,” he said, call­ing it a “coach’s dilemma” that he must bear. “We’re not in that sit­u­a­tion. We’re hav­ing to man­age the sit­u­a­tion that we’re in. We’re hav­ing to do the best that we can with what we have right now, whether it’s be­cause of tal­ent or be­cause of per­son­al­ity types. I just don’t think it’s go­ing to change, but you never know.”

Auriemma likes the en­ergy and tough­ness Ba­touly Ca­mara pro­vides off the bench, but so far, in­juries have im­pacted her avail­abil­ity. Ca­mara, who missed six games be­cause of a sprained knee, is ea­ger to pro­duce.

“It can be re­ally tough, but I’ve been through this process be­fore,” Ca­mara, a 6-2 for­ward, said of the in­juries. “I think with con­sis­tency, that builds trust in my team­mates. We see ‘Touly dur­ing prac­tice and we feel more con­fi­dent with her in the game.”

Added Danger­field: “She gets on the floor. She’ll go make the hus­tle play, she’ll go get the ex­tra re­bound out of her area. That’s not some­thing we have a lot of this year. When she does come in, we know we can count on that from her.”

Auriemma didn’t fall into this predica­ment last minute. A con­flu­ence of fac­tors — from in­juries to mis­fires in re­cruit­ing — grad­u­ally led him to this un­set­tling spot.

“Cir­cum­stances tend to con­spire to put you where you are,” he said. “So, in the whole re­cruit­ing process and the whole plan­ning your team out, I don’t know that when we re­cruited a few of the guys that are in our sec­ond group, that we en­vi­sioned

Player Sydni Har­vey Enna Pe­hadzic Luize Septe Tamara Hen­shaw Shae Lev­erett

Player Crys­tal Danger­field Christyn Wil­liams Katie Lou Sa­muel­son Me­gan Walker Napheesa Col­lier that early in their ca­reers or at some point in their ca­reers they’d be the sixth guy off the bench or the sev­enth guy off the bench. I don’t think that was how we ap­proached it.

“I think we ap­proached it as, we need to de­velop these kids, and if we do, great, they’re go­ing to give us some depth. And if they don’t, then they’re go­ing to strug­gle with play­ing time.”

Stephen Dunn / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn’s Christyn Wil­liams con­trols the ball dur­ing the sec­ond half against Cincin­nati Wed­nes­day in Storrs.

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