When the UConn women’s basketball team met USF last Monday night, the game was gritty to say the least. It was the final game of the regular season for UConn and the first one played without American Athletic All-Conference first team member Katie Lou Samuelson. The Huskies shot just 32 percent from the field and were held to a season low 25 points in the first half. UConn ended up winning the matchup 57-47 but they were certainly tested.
Sunday afternoon was a completely different story for UConn.
The Huskies (30-2) met the Bulls’ in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament and demonstrated that they had learned some lessons from their experience less than a week ago.
“Our defense kind of set the tone for everything that happened the rest of the game,” head coach Geno Auriemma said after the game. “We were really locked in right from the beginning and that created a lot of great opportunities for us at the other end.”
UConn held USF (18-15) to just 26.2 percent from the field through the game and allowed just five Bulls’ points in the first quarter.
The Huskies have played the entire tournament so far without senior Katie Lou Samuelson who has been averaging 18.9 points-per-game so far this season. Freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa has been making the start for the team in Samuelson’s absence and even Auriemma admits that the defense looks different when the 6-4 Nelson-Ododa is on the floor.
“She still makes me shake my head sometimes but there’s a difference in our team when she’s in the lane,” Auriemma said.
In Saturday afternoon’s game Nelson-Ododa grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked five shots. In Sunday’s matchup against USF she scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked one shot.
Despite Nelson-Ododa’s statistics, Auriemma is still aware that having two freshmen on the floor is not ideal for his team’s overall defense.
“We have two freshman in the starting line up and I don’t expect them to be able to guard anybody and they’ve never let me down,” Auriemma said of his youngsters. “And then we’ve got Meg [Walker] who is learning how to be a decent defender. So, that leaves you with Phee and Crystal. We’re trying to, little-by-little, piece it together and try to figure out ‘how do we minimize what our weaknesses are.’”
Looking forward, Auriemma said sustaining what the Huskies did defensively in Sunday’s game will be difficult because every team they will play going forward will be different.
“Not every team is built like South Florida,” Auriemma said. “Not every team has those components. So, each game is a challenge and you have to adjust your defensive game plan, your defensive philosophy for every game. Tomorrow’s game plan is going to be a lot different than today’s.”
Auriemma also acknowledged that, while the team’s defense was efficient on Sunday afternoon, USF missed a lot of their shots.
“Just because a team doesn’t score, that’s not just because you played great defense,” Auriemma said. “The other guys had to miss. Sometimes you play really great defense and they make them. So, there’s a reason South Florida struggled today, they missed, and we helped, but they still missed.”
On Monday night, the Huskies will try to continue to play well defensively when they compete in the conference championship game at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.