The UConn women’s basketball team is renowned for producing star players. Some of the most well-known athletes in professional women’s basketball were coached by hall of famer Geno Auriemma. Players such as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart consistently give credit to Auriemma for making them better players.
In Sunday’s matchup against USF however, it wasn’t the Huskies’ star players that were the highlight of the game, but rather the bench.
This season, UConn is playing without much depth and it isn’t unheard of for its starters to play a full forty minutes in tight games. In Sunday’s game however, the bench was thrust into the spotlight when Auriemma made wholesale substitutions, taking the five starters out and putting the bench in to play just halfway into the first quarter.
Auriemma said he made the switch because his starters weren’t playing with the right mindset and “it just didn’t look right.”
The USF team that was playing UConn was extremely depleted in regards to available players. The Bulls’ star senior Kitija Laksa is out for the season due to an ACL and meniscus tear and senior Laura Ferreira and freshman Beatrice Jordao were out as well.
Before the matchup Auriemma cautioned against underestimating USF.
“…you still have to beat them,” Auriemma said. “There’s no guarantee that just because somebody’s shorthanded, that you’re going to beat them. Kids are competitors. They want to compete.”
On Sunday, the Huskies’ starting lineup struggled to keep up with USF. They were out-rebounded and out-hustled.
“We’ve got a very immature team, and I think it shows up at the inconsistency at times,” Auriemma said. “I think the fact USF was down so many players…the collective mood of the team going out there probably was ‘we don’t really have to get up for this game, they’re really depleted,’ which is a sign of immaturity.”
When he took the starting lineup out, Auriemma allowed his bench to play crucial minutes; something they have not had to do before.
“I think that second group was probably shocked they all went in that early so they might not have been emotionally ready but I thought they handled themselves pretty well,” Auriemma said.
The bench player who saw the most action was junior guard Molly Bent. Bent played almost 21 minutes and scored six points off of two 3-pointers. She also dished out three assists and got two steals.
These numbers may not jump off the page, but they were significant for a crowd-favorite player who rarely sees minutes.
“I try to work hard everyday because that’s something that I can control,” Bent said after the game. “I don’t have the talent that some of these other guys have and for me a big problem hasn’t been my work ethic; it’s been going too fast, too many turnovers, not being confident enough to shoot the ball when I’m open.”
Auriemma was happy Bent got to play significant minutes in a game that was otherwise a poor showing from the starters.
“That was probably the best part of the game,” Auriemma said of Bent.
Non-star players have been a big part of UConn women’s basketball for quite some time. During the reign of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck the Huskies actually had two walk-on players on the team who became fan-favorites.
“When we recruited her [Bent], I thought any kid that works really really hard, you root for them and you hope that they can continue to get better and that you can find a spot for them,” Auriemma said. “Usually in our program, there’s always been a kid like that and we’ve always found a spot for them. So, I’m hopeful that going forward this could be pretty good for her.”
While it’s unlikely that Bent and the rest of the bench will see heavy minutes in the future it was clear that both the bench and starters heard Coach Auriemma’s message about attitude.
“We can’t have a set mindset before games,” bench player Kyla Irwin said. “You have to just go in and give it everything you’ve got and play as hard as you can and play UConn basketball.”
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.