Over the Huskies’ last two games, we’ve seen a much more balanced effort down the roster than we did through the first two.
We know Megan Walker can score at will. We know Crystal Dangerfield is this team’s leader. We know Christyn Williams is the offensive spark plug. We know Olivia Nelson-Ododa is the defensive anchor that just won AAC Player of the Week.
Who we didn’t know about was everybody else.
Before the season began, head coach Geno Auriemma said, “Not one person has to be superstar material. They just have to rely on each other and be really good as a team.”
Auriemma got some of the best team basketball that I have ever seen thanks to smart, continuous ball movement from everybody that took the court Tuesday versus Virginia.
“Sunday, Aubrey [Griffin] came off the bench and gave us some great minutes and impacted the game. Today, Kyla [Irwin] did that. She came off the bench and impacted the game offensively, defensively and hustling for loose balls,” Auriemma said. “You want to feel like you have people on the bench that can contribute. Sometimes it’s a little, sometimes it’s a lot.”
Nelson-Ododa picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, then a third one in the second. As a result, she only played nine minutes and scored no points in the first half.
Senior Kyla Irwin soaked up a lot of the minutes at center, finishing the game with 24 minutes played. She scored a career-high 13 points without missing a shot, grabbed six rebounds, blocked two shots and surprised everybody with five assists.
Keen vision and pinpoint bounce passes are something you rarely see from the center position, but Irwin can do it all.
Perhaps her seven points on 3-of-3 shooting in just five minutes of play against Temple convinced head coach Geno Auriemma that she can fill in for quality minutes.
“She’s been around for four years, so she knows where to go to get it [the ball] and where she’s supposed to go after she gets it and who to look for,” Auriemma said. “This season, she’s completely comfortable.”
Over her last two games, Irwin is shooting 7-of-7 from the field with three 3-pointers.
“Whenever I go out there, I try to do what I know I can do. I don’t want to spread myself too thin and try to do too much,” Irwin said. “I just go out there and help however I possibly can, whether that’s a two minute break for someone or whatever it is, I just do what I do.”
There was one particular stretch against Virginia where Irwin found Anna Makurat on a cut to the basket for a layup, then on the wing for her first career 3-pointer, then back into the lane for another layup. The XL Center erupted in cheers and applause when Makurat caught fire.
“It was quite amazing to have the crowd cheer for so long, I think I’m going to remember that moment,” Makurat said.
After a pretty underwhelming start to the season, it appears that Makurat has made a breakthrough.
In 29 minutes, the freshman from Poland had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting while sinking two from downtown. Makurat also contributed across the board, recording six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.
“I told her, ‘you really know how to impact the game.’” Auriemma said of Makurat. He then teased her by saying, “She passes to everybody but the net. Her favorite targets are her teammates and the rim, so hopefully she’ll start making a couple.”
Makurat shot 1-of-13 through the first three games before the 4-of-9 effort Tuesday to bring her to 23% from the field. She also improved her 0-of-10 mark from beyond the arc to 2-of-16.
Much like Draymond Green to the Warriors over the last few years, Makurat is relied upon to do all of the little things really well to help the team win. Though she only made one basket, she recorded seven assists and four rebounds with just two turnovers against Temple.
“We’re passing the ball well and have good spacing, it’s just fun to play with each other,” Makurat said. “I’m just trying to focus on doing my thing on the court.”
Aubrey Griffin scored six points with three rebounds, two assists and two steals in 15 minutes off the bench. In the previous game against Temple, she had nine points, eight rebounds and two steals.
Griffin’s consistently high rebounding and steals statistics are indicative of her tremendous hustle, endless wingspan and never-ending motor.
At the end of the night, Auriemma was pleased with the contributions of the role players in the middle and at the bottom of the roster. Even Molly Bent played nearly 11 minutes and though she only recorded an assist and a steal, she was actively stuck to the player she was defending at all times.
Great team basketball from the entire team led to terrific ball movement, which was something Auriemma wasn’t impressed with to start the season.
“Our ball movement from day one to today is drastically different. We still have a lot of work to do, but I like the direction that we’re going in,” Auriemma said.
UConn has a three-game road trip coming up, starting with a trip to Columbus, Ohio for a matchup with Ohio State. That game will be played Sunday at 3 p.m.