While a 40-point victory may look like complete domination, at times it wasn’t all that easy.
Sure, the Huskies controlled the game from start to finish and held Houston to just two points in the first quarter, but when the starters weren’t all on the court UConn did have their struggles, most notably in the second.
“We have to keep getting better at what happens when we make a couple substitutions and the flow is interrupted, cause it felt that way in the second quarter,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “When you watch us play you always go ‘you know the first quarter’s always pretty good, and the third quarter’s not bad, and it’s the second or fourth quarter [that’s eh].’ Well, that correlates with when we actually go and make a bunch of substitutions. So we gotta figure out how we can get our offense to stay fluid when we don’t have our normal lineup in the game, and I think today we did a better job of that.”
In the second quarter, despite holding Houston to just two points in the first 10 minutes of action, UConn let up 19 points, resulting in them tying the quarter with the Cougars. Here, Aubrey Griffin and Anna Makurat combined for about 15 minutes of action
Throughout the whole game, the two of them each had their moments both good and bad. Makurat finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, all from beyond the arc, while picking up five boards. The nine shots tied the most she has taken in a game all season, something that Auriemma has been encouraging.
“If you’ve ever been to Europe, when you watch European players play, they’re nothing if not overconfident,” Auriemma said. “You know they have this abundance of confidence, which I think is what allows a lot of them to be really good players when they come over here. So when we went to the Mavs game the other night I made a point of saying to her ‘you see that kid down there [Luka Dončić], he’s only a year older than you.’
“That hit home a little bit. I said ‘that kid’s only a year older than you, he probably doesn’t come here and wonder should I shoot should I not, should I pass should I not. You came over here to prove something, to play basketball, so start playing basketball. Stop worrying about what if what if what if should I should I should I’. That’s where she was trapped in. And I gotta tell you, the last three or four games she’s been really good, whether the points are there or not it doens’t matter. I thought she battled her but off against Baylor, and she’s playing with a lot more confidence.”
She had the green light early on, sinking her first shot of the game and taking seven of her nine in the first half. She was a bit more hesitant in the second, even prompting a yell from Auriemma to “shoot the damn ball,” but overall, was very solid.
As for Griffin, she finished with five points on 2-of-5 shootings and was tied for the team-high in rebounds with seven, five of them offensive, in just 18 total minutes. However, she was also tied for the team lead in turnovers, with four.
“This is where one time I wish, for the most part, that high school girls coming into college as freshmen were more like high school guys coming into college as freshmen,” Auriemma said. “I wish Aubrey had that mentality, like ‘I’m gonna go to college, I’m only gonna be there one year, I’m gonna be a one and done, I’m gonna shoot it every time I touch it, and I’m gonna try to average 25 a night and I’m want to get drafted in the first round. I wish they were like that. Instead, they come and go ‘do you think I should shoot? What do you think if I drive, would that be okay?’ … If I could get Aubrey to play like a Sophomore or Junior in the next two months, we would be 100% better as a team, that’s how good she is. So it’s a work in progress.”
She was really effective on the offensive glass, showing off her outstanding athleticism, but once the ball was in her hands, it sometimes looked like she wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. That, of course, led to the turnovers, whether it be a couple of travels or losing the ball under the hoop after getting the offensive board.
Their teammates know how important it is to not just get them to fill up the stat sheet but to get them more confident in their abilities.
“They’re improving,” Megan Walker said. “They need those minutes to improve and have that confidence. Anna’s finally knocking down some shots and Aubrey is all over the court, she’s so athletic she can do a lot of things, so it’s just about confidence with her.”
If the two of them can provide a steady presence off the bench and not interrupt the aforementioned “flow” too much, this team is going to get a huge boost.
“They can help our team in a lot of different ways,” Crystal Dangerfield said. “Obviously as soon as Aubrey gets in the game you can see what she does, and Anna she came in and knocked down her first shot, so having production out of them is gonna be huge moving forward.”