Huskies brilliant but fragile
STORRS – There was brilliance and there was a reminder of how fragile that brilliance can be.
The UConn women’s basketball team gave us a dose of both Sunday while smacking No. 4, and last year’s NCAA final opponent Louisville, 81-64, in sold out pink-tinged Gampel Pavilion fueled by a cure for cancer cause.
The brilliance part is hardly a surprise. The times the Huskies have been test this season can be counted in minutes not games. In racking up a half dozen victories over the likes of Stanford, Duke, Maryland, Penn State, California and Baylor, all ranked in the top 25, by an average of 20 points a game, only Baylor has been able to stay close for the duration.
Louisville did not exactly go away. The Cardinals were put away. Trailing by just 10 points with just under 14 minutes to go, it went like this. Foul line jumper from Kiah Stokes, missed shot, 3-pointer from the corner from Moriah Jefferson (18 points), turnover, short jumper from Bria Hartley and in just over a minute it was 59-42, game over.
Standard procedure type stuff from the Huskies. And there was plenty of stuff to smile about from start to finish. Nothing new but it doesn’t diminish how efficient the machine is when running at peak efficiency.
But in the big picture and with UConn that always involves the national championship It was another part of the day that caught your eye and a lot people’s breath at the same time. And again it involved Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
In a scenario eerily reminiscent of the Stanford game when she went down in agony in the first half going for the ball and injured her right elbow which caused her to miss eight games, the junior guard went down hard right near the end of the first half and banged her elbow again, this time the left one.
The injury did not appear as severe as the first time around and Mosqueda-Lewis came back in the second half and played seven minutes although she appeared to be favoring the left arm and only took one shot and did not score after a 13-point first half.
Coach Geno Auriemma said the doctors were checking the elbow out after the game but the obvious potential impact on any kind of injury was not lost on him. Not with Morgan Tuck out for the year with a knee injury and Brianna Banks on the sidelines these days with ankle trouble that have sidelined her indefinitely. Things are looking a little thin on the UConn bench.
Geno was asked about what his margin for error was in terms of personnel and how close the Huskies were to the danger zone. He knows there is no margin for error.
“We’ve been there since Morgan Tuck had her surgery. We’ve been there right from that day when that decision was made. It put us in a tough spot because now all you need is one more and then what happens is you don’t have Brianna Banks,” said Auriemma.
We’re there and nothing short of playing with four players there is nothing else that would need to happen to put us in that danger zone where we just can’t afford it. We can’t afford a sprained ankle, we can’t afford three fouls in the first half, we can’t afford somebody getting the flu at the wrong time everything has to go right from here on in
It’s not easy to deal with it right now but I don’t know if anybody is going to have a telethon for us to send us a couple of players when we need them. It is what it is, this is who we have and we have to try to manage this as best we can. It isn’t going to be easy the next two months.”
Of course the brilliance may overshadow any potential personnel pitfalls. Cardinals coach Jeff Walz thinks so. When asked if a team can win a national title with seven or six players he answered in the positive and went on how it must be terrible to have had to play Breanna Stewart 37 minutes and Moriah Jefferson 40.
You get the idea he thinks UConn has a lot in the cupboard. After 11 straight losses to the Huskies, you understand. But he also got another eyeful and another loss to ponder over and you wouldn’t blame him if he said UConn could win the national title with five players or four and the mascot.
Where do you want to start? How about with Stewart whom Walz called the best player in the country. You know 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists will do that to you. And nobody has yet found the answer on how to guard the 6-foot-4 sophomore.
With UConn leading, 29-24, Stewart came down and drained two 3-pointers in a row to up the lead to 35-24. She followed that up with two low-post moves for basket. High, low, in, out, a lot of legs and arms and talent that nobody has figured out how to shut down.
But Stewie had plenty of help on this day. The ever-ready rocket, Jefferson played every minute. She drove to the hoop on several occasions, buried a couple of big 3-pointers and held the Cardinals leading scorer Soni Schimmel to just nine points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Bria Hartley fired in 12 points as did Stefanie Dolson to go with nine rebounds. Answers at every point. Walz admitted that it would take virtual perfection at this point to beat the Huskies especially if they are able to play defense the way they do (you got the distinct idea he thinks a few more fouls should be called). But, he was nice about it.
Walz talked about wanting to get to the last 10 minutes and being within 10 points when shots count and noted UConn hasn’t been there yet. After 25 games that’s brilliance.
Maybe a fragile brilliance.