After the UConn women’s basketball team’s game against Houston on Jan. 11, head coach Geno Auriemma had a few comments to make.
“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,” Auriemma said. “So it’s a work in progress.”
That game, that can best be described as rocky, Aubrey Griffin delivered five points, seven rebounds and four turnovers.
He took a similar path when talking about fellow freshman Anna Makurat, referencing what he told her when the team went to see Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks play.
“You came over here to prove something, to play basketball, so start playing basketball,” Auriemma said. “Stop worrying about what if what if what if should I should I should I.’ That’s where she was trapped in.”
By that point, Makurat had strung together a couple of really solid games, but their game versus Tulsa about a week later was her real coming-out party, scoring 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out five assists and forcing three steals.
Thursday night against Tennessee, Griffin had her’s.
She subbed into the game with under a minute left in the first quarter and subbed out just over two minutes into the fourth. She was on the court for 23 straight minutes, and she seriously affected the game in every single one.
In her time on the floor, Griffin recorded 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, grabbed seven boards including five offensive ones and had a whopping five steals.
“It seemed like there for a while every rebound she had a hand on and every defensive possession she had a hand on,” Auriemma said. “She’s got a lot to offer, you know, it’s funny because at some point during the game, maybe before halftime I said to CD [Chris Dailey], I said ‘CD we gotta really get her ready for the NCAA tournament cause we’re gonna need her. We gotta get her in her comfort zone for the NCAA tournament, so we got a month or so to do that.’ She was amazing today, I would say she was the difference in the game.”
The difference-maker she was, and she did it by doing the little things.
“It means a lot [to have Auriemma call her the difference maker],” Griffin said. “I just went out there, played hard, did what my team needed me to do, just kept being agressive.”
All season, the team has talked about how they have been learning about how to impact the game other than scoring, and Griffin epitomized that attitude tonight. A 13-point game is nothing to thumb your nose at, especially on a night where the Huskies scored 60 points, but that was not her main focus.
She took the points when they were there, but her effort on the offensive boards and defensive end was where she really changed the game.
“She’s just so young, she’s young mentally, she’s young as a basketball player, but we gave her one job to do in the second half and she was really good at it,” Auriemma said. “We said ‘if they’re not gonna guard you, and every time you screen for somebody there’s nobody there to help. So tonight, the whole second half you are a screener. Screen, go offensive rebound. Screen, go offensive rebound. And when we’re on defense trap everything that comes near you.”
Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper noted how much of an impact Griffin had on the game simply by her hustle.
“She was making big plays because she was playing hard,” Harper said. “… Obviously we weren’t keying in on her, and she was able to get some trash buckets, able to get some putbacks, she had a couple of transition buckets I think in the first half. She just played really hard and filled a big role for them tonight.”
This wasn’t Griffin’s first big game of the season, scoring 25 points against Seton Hall in the first week of December, but she didn’t do much else besides score and rebound. Thursday, she played better defense, was more efficient with her shots and overall just impacted the game heavily against a higher quality opponent. She might have had more points against Seton Hall, but this was her real breakout in all facets of her game.
It felt like from the moment she stepped on the court she changed the feel of the game, probably because she immediately had a steal-and-score.
“I feel like in the beginning [of the season] I was doing well, I sort of lost confidence but I’m starting to gain it back now,” Griffin said. “Just being in the gym more, putting in extra work has really gave me the confidence boost that I need.”
It’s a confidence boost that’s shared between Griffin and Makurat. The two roommates have improved their willingness to call for the ball, attack the rim, run the fast break and more.
“We try to lift each other up, we talk a lot after the games, just how to change, how to be better, yeah, it’s great,” Makurat said.
The Huskies defeated the Vols 60-45, with the defense holding Tennessee to just 14 points in the second half, due in large part to the efforts of Makurat and Griffin.
If they can keep having an impact like they did against Tennessee in every game they, this team will have a much better chance of going far in the NCAA Tournament. As Geno said, now it’s time to get them ready for the big stage.