The Huskies beat Virginia 83-44 Tuesday, Nov. 19. Photo by Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus
In its first two games of the season, the UConn women’s basketball team won, but there was something different about the wins. They weren’t as dominant as they have been in this program’s history, as the fans have become accustomed to. Many, including head coach Geno Auriemma, noticed.
The Huskies beat Cal by 11 and Vanderbilt by 14, but both probably should have been over 25. Not only that, but they continuously lost the fourth quarter, letting their leads get cut down significantly and just failing to close out games.
Then, everything changed when the fire nation atta–I mean on Tuesday night versus Virginia.
“It’s funny, that where you’re looking at things really changes how you see things,” Auriemma said. “After our first couple games the perception, rightly so, was, ‘these guys are terrible. They don’t look anything like Connecticut. This is awful.’ Why? Because our expectation is so high. And it was a disaster, but we’re 2-0 and we won both games. So when we went down to Temple [head coach Tonya Cardoza] said to me, ‘I’m surprised how good you guys are, I didn’t think you guys were going to be this good this early.’ So it’s interesting, the way we look at it because of what we expect and the way outside people look at it. We have to change our lenses.”
UConn started playing good defense, it had good ball movement, shots started falling and it just looked like a team.
“Our ball movement from day one to today is drastically different,” Auriemma said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of work that we have to do, but I like the direction that we’re going in, and that’s a good thing.”
No more is it the Core Four who have to shoulder 95% of the load, as over the past two games Auriemma has gotten significant contributions from Anna Makurat, Kyla Irwin and Aubrey Griffin as well.
Even though the Huskies started off slow and even trailed 9-5 at one point, they then proceeded to go on a 21-1 run over the final six-plus minutes of the first to build a sizeable lead. They pushed that run to 28-1 to start the second and were just a couple seconds shy of holding the Cavaliers to 10 minutes without a field goal.
By the time the first half was over, UConn was up 42-17, and the game was all but over, just like the Huskies of old.
Anna Makurat had another strong game, getting a team-high five assists while also recording six rebounds, two steals and a block. And, after starting her collegiate career 0-for-11, she finally hit a three. Not only that, but she hit two of them, and even though the percentages might not be there yet (2-of-6 on the day from behind the arc), the shots have at least started falling, so it’s a start. She finished the day with 10 points, a career-high.
The biggest surprise of the game was senior Kyla Irwin, who scored 13 points on 4-of-4 shooting, grabbed six boards and dished out five assists, tying Makurat for the team-high.
But it was Walker who led the team with 19 points, shooting 7-of-15 from the floor, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds and dishing out three assists.
“It’s a blessing and a curse when you see yourself as a scorer, because you think you can score anytime, anywhere and against anybody,” Auriemma said. “And part of being a scorer is knowing when to and how to, so when Meg’s in a flow she’s really hard to play against, and when Meg tries too hard to make something happen, it doesn’t look so great. So, for the most part, these four games, she hasn’t let whether the ball is going in or not going in affect how she plays, whereas last year if she had started the game the way she started today [0-for-2 on two layups], it would have had an effect on her the rest of the game.”
With the concerns that Auriemma voiced earlier in the season about losing what was essentially 40 points every night with the departures of Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, Walker has stepped up to be that scoring threat the team needs.
“It’s cool to kind of step in and replace what left, but we kind of knew what was gonna happen with Phee and Lou leaving,” Walker said. “Last year me and Christyn [Williams] were the second options, so you see that.”
Through the first four games, Walker is averaging 20 points on 48.4% shooting. Williams is right behind her with 18.3 points per game, and her field goal percentage of 51.7% is the highest on the team of those who have taken at least 20 shots (Irwin is 7-for-7 on the year though, which is very impressive).
As for the early season “struggles,” Walker isn’t concerned.
“It’s just noise,” Walker said. “We don’t really pay attention to that. We gotta stick together, play for each other and we know we can get it done.”
The Huskies have won their last two games by an average margin of 34 points, nearly triple that of the first two games. They can still put up heaps of points, they can still keep teams from scoring and they can still end games at halftime.
“The Temple game really gave them a little pick-me-up,” Auriemma said. “And it carried over to today’s shootaround and it carried over to tonight’s game. Hopefully, we can keep building from here.”
They’ve proved that they’re still UConn, and through their play, told us all we can take our hands off the panic button.