Geno Auriemma has been called a lot of things during his Hall of Fame tenure at UConn. Many of them are not fit for print, but “master motivator’’ certainly is. He did it again this weekend during the World Vision Challenge at Gampel Pavilion.
Auriemma publicly called out 6-foot-5 freshman center Stefanie Dolson Saturday night for getting only two rebounds in 15 minutes against Howard on Friday. This was, of course, after he chastised her in private for her performance, urging her to be tougher and more aggressive.
Auriemma benched Dolson for the first half against Lehigh Saturday to further drive home his message. She went out and produced eight points and six rebounds in 10 minutes in the second half against the Mountain Hawks. And she generated further production today against LSU, finishing with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and one block in 17 minutes.
“I took (being benched) in stride and what he said to me was all true,’’ Dolson said. “So I just took it and listened to what he had to say and came back today with a different mindset than I did yesterday. I wanted to go out and just prove to him why I deserve to be on that floor. I wanted to rebound and I wanted to play as tough as I can and be more aggressive, which is something he’s always telling me about. So today was just to go out and prove to him and everyone else why I deserve to be on that floor. Today’s game was great. I got into it. And there was a lot excitement and just passion into this game.’’
It was a step in the right direction for Dolson. The Huskies need her to be a rugged presence in the paint this season. And it was also a good sign to see her respond to Auriemma’s prodding in the manner in which she did.
“Stefanie was good, huh,’’ Auriemma said. “She was actually kind of involved in the game. She was a little bit of a presence on defense. She rebounded the ball a little bit. We need a presence in there. That first half we played 2-on-5. It was Bria (Hartley) and Maya (Moore) against LSU. And in the second half we played 4-on-5, 5-on-5. And when we do that we’re really a good team.’’
At that point Auriemma’s sarcasm again took over …
“I don’t know if we’re a great team,’’ he said. “I don’t know if we’re the best team in the country. I don’t know if we’re as good as we were last year or the year before. But we’re a really good team when we play 5-on-5. And we’ve just got to make sure that we’re constantly playing 5-on-5. And if we do that we have a chance to be pretty good. We have to go down in history as the greatest team that’s ever played in the history of basketball. And I think Dr. Naismith would be proud of us. We all should carry a peach basket to our next game in honor of him. The game’s never been played this way, never in history. Never has anyone seen such movement and passing. It’s just the way we play the game. I’m like a conductor. We can get Kelly Faris to shoot an air-ball on command. We can get anything to happen that we want it to happen. We can get anyone to throw a pass and bounce it off somebody’s head, have Maya run over a kid at halfcourt and destroy her. All we have to do is conjure it up and it can happen. That’s how fantastic this team is.’’
LSU coach Van Chancellor held court for about five minutes after the game. Here are a couple tidbits …
On whether nor not UConn still has that fear factor about them this season: “If they don’t instill fear you’re an idiot,’’ Chancellor said. “As long as Maya Moore does not get hurt they’ve got a shot (to win the national championship).’’
Comparing No. 7 Ohio State and UConn. LSU lost to the Buckeyes 59-55 Nov. 17: “Ohio State’s going to have a hard time finding somebody to guard Maya Moore,’’ Chancellor said. “But the World Champs, the Seattle Storm, are going to have to same problem.’’
The Huskies will play Ohio State in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden Dec. 19, likely seeking their record-tying 88th straight win.