Geno dissects loss to South Carolina
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Looking back on the UConn women’s experience at the Battle 4 Atlantis and, more specifically, Monday’s championship game loss to South Carolina, coach Geno Auriemma saw himself as coaching two different teams.
A really good one. And a really bad one. “You can look at it a bunch of different ways to feel really good about your team,” Auriemma said Wednesday from Lynden Pindling International Airport before boarding the Huskies’ flight home. “Then you can look at it more critically and feel really crappy about your team.”
UConn went on an early 20-2 run against South Carolina, pushing ahead for a lead it held for the bulk of what become a 73-57 loss. The Huskies
were 1 for 10 from the field and scored just 3 points in the fourth quarter, outscored 16-3.
“We outscored them by 18 over a 10-minute stretch,” Auriemma said. “That’s us. We did that. And then defensively, they couldn’t get anything they wanted in the first half. So that’s us, too. And then they come out in the second half and punched us pretty hard and we didn’t respond that fourth quarter. So what are the takeaways? We’re really, really good, and we’re really, really bad. So if this was February I’d be (worried). But it’s November and we’ve got a long time to figure some of the things out, how to stay that team that outscores them by 18 and add to that and how to eliminate the team that didn’t respond in the fourth quarter.”
That fourth quarter was a mess. Auriemma, his staff and the team reviewed film before leaving the Bahamas. What stood out, specifically, in that reliance on sophomore Paige Bueckers was the way other UConn players moved — or, didn’t — without the ball.
UConn was out-rebounded in the game 42-25 and gave up 19 offensive rebounds. The inability to score was the most glaring concern.
“There was no flow to our offense,” Auriemma said. “And that’s something we’ve always taken pride in at UConn, that our offense has always been the best in the country at the flow part of it, and there wasn’t any. Forget the defensive rebounds and all that stuff. What are we going to do the next time we play them, hold them to 10 offensive rebounds? Yeah, we could probably do that. But that’s not going to fix the offensive problems that we had. If you can’t score 70, then you don’t deserve to win that game.
“There’s no mystery. They don’t look at the film and go, ‘What do you mean, Coach?’ That’s why you watch film. It’s so glaring. It’s just easy, easy, easy to see and point out. If we had played our ‘A’ game and lost that game I would be really, really concerned that we reached our ceiling and we’re just not good enough. We didn’t.”
Auriemma said after the game that he has players who are “stubborn” and “can barely play a lick” compared to some of the greats who have come through his program over the years. He was asked two days later what he meant by that.
“Exactly what I said,” Auriemma said. “Players come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. But the way you get better is, mentally, you make an adjustment. And we’ve got players that, for whatever reason, they think their way is better than my way. Which is kind of odd when you think about it. I’ve had some of the most iconic players in the world play for me. Now you look around and go, ‘Guys, why would the coaching staff try to impart this kind of stuff on you and you’re being resistant? How can you think your way works better than my way?’ ”
Bueckers was 0 for 5 in the fourth quarter. Christyn Williams was 0 for 3. Evina Westbrook was 1 for 2. The Huskies committed seven turnovers in the quarter.
“Everybody was standing around watching Paige try to win the game for us,” Auriemma said. “And you’re not going to beat a really good team — I mean, (South Carolina) got contributions from a lot of people. As much as Aliyah Boston dominated inside, some of the 3’s they made at big moments, the turnovers they forced at big moments, ended up eventually deciding the game.”
Freshman Azzi Fudd was a non-factor against South Carolina, taking just 1 shot and going scoreless in 10 minutes.
“Azzi is not 100 percent healthy,” Auriemma said. “She’s playing on a bad foot so we’ve got to address that. If she’s healthy, that changes a lot about our offense. She can’t move as well as she needs to move. That’s an issue we’re going to be addressing this week.”
UConn plays just Dec. 3, at Seton Hall.
Auriemma couldn’t rely on Fudd for long stretches against South Carolina for two reasons. She was a defensive liability and South Carolina went right at her, and she couldn’t free herself up on offense.
“She’s been hampered by a bad foot,” Auriemma said. “And it’s difficult for her to get away from people.”
Auriemma has been saying that he needs a post player or two to stretch the offense by making outside shots. The trio of Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz have only been dominant in stretches so far.
Nelson-Ododa was more aggressive against South Carolina than she has been in any game over four years.
“Liv was absolutely great,” Auriemma said. “I wish she had made some shots. But, first things, first. We could never get Liv to play, mentally, emotionally, with that kind of toughness before. And she brought that against the best team in the country, maybe. The fact that we got there with her, the next part won’t be hard.”
Edwards is minus-38 in 38 minutes over the past two games. Auriemma was pleased with how she played in the second half against South Carolina. Overall, though, he said, “We need her to be more like she was last year and so far it hasn’t been that way.”
He added, “Everybody who touches the ball has to be an offensive threat. Otherwise you’re playing 5 against 4. That’s the next step for our post players. If we can match that, or counteract that, that changes the game completely. Now they can’t just gang up on our guards.”