With Kaleena-Mosqueda-Lewis back to full strength after missing one game with a concussion, UConn coach Geno Auriemma will start star freshman Breanna Stewart over senior guard Caroline Doty Monday against No. 11 Maryland.
It was not an easy decision for Auriemma to make. Doty has started 53 straight games and 98 of 99 in her career.
“It’s not something I would want to do, but it’s probably what I have to do,’’ Auriemma said. “But it’s not something I want to do. No. It’s not. And Caroline knows that. We talked this thing through. She knows I don’t want to do it, but it’s something I have to do right now at this time.
“It is tough. There’s no easy way to come to a decision like that because Caroline hasn’t done anything to warrant not starting. But I think our players understand that we have six starters. And as you’ve seen, we played a bunch of games without Bria (Hartley) and we didn’t miss a beat, so to speak. And we played a game without Kaleena and we didn’t miss a beat. So we’ve got six legitimate starters right now on our team. We’re going to go Breanna and see where that takes us.
Doty is averaging 5.2 points and 2.5 assists in 17.3 minutes. But her leadership and experience is immeasurable.
And since Doty has three times torn the ACL in her left knee, Auriemma will keep an eye on how she responds now physically in a reserve role.
“That’s something we’re going to have work through and monitor and see how she’s doing and see how she handles it,’’ Auriemma said. “In a perfect world you’d be able to just not worry about when you play her, how many minutes you play her and all that stuff. But I do worry about all that stuff. Ideally, you’d like to get her into the game as soon as possible, but we’re going to have to work through that and figure that out as we go along. Right now having Caroline on the floor is really, really, really good for us. She really, really is playing great. This is the best I’ve seen her look since her sophomore year.’’
Stewart leads the Huskies in scoring (16.8) and rebounding (6.5) in 21.2 minutes. Here are Auriemma’s thoughts about having her in the starting lineup …
“We came up short a little bit last year because we weren’t big enough and we didn’t have enough options,’’ Auriemma said. “And there is a practical side to it too that when you have Caroline and Bria in the game at the same time and you sub one of those guys out you’re not exactly bringing in a kid who’s had a lot of college experience. So you’re not necessarily getting a lot better. You’re getting different, but you’re not necessarily getting a lot better. And I think in Caroline’s case if you get her on the court at the first TV timeout in some way you’re getting a lot better. You’re getting better because you’ve got another experienced ballhandler, an experienced guard who’s been there and done that and knows what we want and if she’s out there with one of the younger guys … If she’s out there with Moriah Jefferson or if she’s out there with Brianna Banks or she’s out there with some of the younger guys that are post players everything changes. A lot of our younger guys, they’re good. But they’re really good when they’re out there with some of the older guys.
“And here’s what the average person doesn’t understand yet … When Stefanie Dolson is not on the floor we’re not any good. That’s the bottom line. When Stefanie Dolson’s on the floor we’re really, really good. But when she’s not on the floor we’re just OK because there isn’t a post player that has that much experience, that knows our offense and makes things work. Sets the right screen at the right time, makes the right pass at the right time. She’s probably got more assists than every other post player combined. So there’s a lot of key factors. When Kaleena Lewis isn’t on the floor we’re not as good because when she she’s on the floor everybody else gets more room to operate. So there’s things that we have to figure out as coaches. The average guy goes, `Well, why is so-and-so playing and so-and-so’s not as much?’ Because there’s certain guys that you have to have on the floor if you want to be really good, and then bring the other guys along slowly.’’
Overall, however, Auriemma said that starting or coming off bench does not mean much to the Huskies.
“I think our players are more interested in how many minutes they play and whether we win or not,’’ Auriemma said. “I think kids that are overly concerned about playing time … I want everybody to want to play, don’t get me wrong. I want them to say, `Hey, Coach I want to play.’ You don’t want anybody that’s just content to sit there. But at the same time they’ve got to understand … Put yourself in my shoes. You can’t make it equitable for everybody. It’s not going to work that way. So they all came here to win and winning supersedes everything else in their mind and in my mind.
“So I don’t think Caroline’s interested in anything other than winning and I don’t think anybody else on our team is interested in anything other than winning and they want to do whatever they have to do to help us win. And whether you’re a starter or a nonstarter I don’t think that means that much. It probably means more to other people than it does to the kids themselves.’’