UConn bench provides spark in win over South Florida
STORRS – You didn’t need to look far to find the spark that pushed the UConn women past an injury-riddled and undermanned South Florida team Sunday afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 9,534 fans at Gampel Pavilion. All you had to do was look to coach Geno Auriemma’s right past the assistant coaches.
Yep, the bench. The much maligned and rarely used bench that offers up more high-fives than court production. This was the bench’s day in a spotty 63-46 victory.
In fact if you didn’t warm your car up early enough and arrived a little late like halfway through the first period you are forgiven if confusion reigned. The team on the court was Molly Bent, Kyla Irwin, Mikayla Coombs, Batouly Camara and Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
Simply explained, it didn’t take Auriemma long to decide he had seen enough. The Bulls (10-7), who only suited up eight players and were down about 50 points of offense without Silvia Serrat, Beatriz Jordao, Kitja Laksa and Laura Ferreira, led 14-6, and were outrebounding, outshooting and out energizing the Huskies.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t look right and it didn’t look right,” said Auriemma. “It’s gotten to the point in coaching where you can just make suggestions you can’t tell people what you want them to do. You make suggestions and if they want to do it they do and if they don’t, they don’t. I suggested that they sit down. We have a very immature team and that shows up in inconsistency sometimes.”
The displeasure didn’t have to be explained to the normal starters.
“We didn’t come up playing as hard as we should have and just by the look on (Auriemma’s) face it was head to toe,” said Katie Lou Samuelson. “I think we all know that we were doing something wrong and it was something we needed to fix. We got taken out because we looked like we didn’t want to be on that court. ”
Both the temporary new bench and the old bench took advantage of the situation. Maybe none more so than Molly Bent. The junior guard drilled a 3-pointer, helped create a turnover and then assisted on Irwin’s 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 14-12.
Bent, who also started the third quarter in place of freshman guard Christyn Williams (two shots, no points) played a career high 21 minutes, nailed a pair of 3-pointers, came up with a couple of steals and disrupted the South Florida defense.
“The object was to speed up the game so we want to get the game going fast and I don’t know what Molly puts in her cereal every morning but she’s all revved up a lot so I figured let me put her in there, run around and stir things up a bit,” said Auriemma. “She kind of did. She scrapped for a loose ball, getting a rebound knocked in a couple of shots. She was probably the best player of the game, I was glad Molly was able to experience some success.”
“I don’t have the talent that some of these other guys have. For me a big problem hasn’t been my work effort. it has been going too fast, too many turnovers, not being confident enough to shoot the ball,” said Bent. “Because of that I haven’t gained the trust to get in there. Today to make a couple of shots and make a couple of plays it really fun to get that opportunity."
Message received, the first unit righted its own ship in the second quarter. Not easily, but enough to take a 26-20 halftime lead as South Florida’s manpower shortage began to assert itself.
Megan Walker (14 points) gave UConn (14-1) its first lead since the beginning of the game, 20-18 on a fastbreak layup to start a run of eight unanswered points for a 26-18 advantage. The Bulls went almost four minutes without a basket and scored just six points in the quarter while committing eight turnovers and hitting just 3-of-10 shots.
“Five of the eight kids that played tonight are freshman and right now we just don’t have enough guys that can put the ball in the basket. We struggled to score,” said South Florida coach Jose Fernandez. “Where we really struggled was with the pressure and didn’t rebound as well as we have in the past.” But we made it difficult where they had one shot and out.”
Samuelson kept the Huskie momentum going in the third quarter with 10 of her game-high 19 points. She became the 10th player in UConn history to crack the 2,000 point mark with 2:14 to go in the third period as UConn’s lead surged to 46-28.
The Huskies ran off the first eight points of the period to open up a 34-20 lead and was in command the rest of the way despite an erratic fourth quarter.
“I thought we were lousy today,” summed up Auriemma. “I didn’t think we did anything to be proud of.”
Well, nice to be all that and still be a winner. And nice to have a bench that provides a spark.