Well, that certainly was an interesting couple of days for the second-ranked Huskies. They remain undefeated after earning wins over No. 9 Maryland Monday and No. 10 Penn State Thursday. But they learned that there is still much work to be done at this juncture of the season. And search for the improvement starts with post players.
The Terrapins and Lady Lions decided they were going to be physical with UConn. And it worked. Maryland finished with a 39-35 rebounding advantage. Penn State outrebounded the Huskies 38-37.
The Huskies, who were outrebounded in back to-back games for the first time since facing Seton Hall Feb. 28, 2009 and Rutgers March 2, 2009, had posted a plus-14.5 rebounding advantage through the first six games.
You can bet that the elite teams that have to be ability to be physical with UConn will do so. Maryland was called for 16 fouls. Penn State had 22. It is now up to the Huskies, who had a combined 28 fouls in the two games, and how they respond to this style of play moving forward.
“Our big guys, that’s two games in a row now that we got outrebounded,’’ Auriemma said. “So we’ve got to take care of that. That’s something that shouldn’t happen. That shouldn’t happen at all.’’
The physical play by Maryland and Penn State also took UConn out of its comfort zone offensively. The Huskies had been averaging 92.0 points and 13.3 turnovers and were shooting 57.9 percent from the field at the start of this week.
However, they averaged a combined 65.0 points on 39.7 percent shooting and committed 18.5 turnovers. Of course, these numbers are likely to dip when matched against the nation’s top teams. But there were players standing around on offense waiting for others to instead make plays. And some of the turnovers were just careless.
UConn had a season-high 20 turnovers against Penn State, including six by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (three offensive charges). Breanna Stewart had five of the Huskies’ 17 turnovers against Maryland, while Stefanie Dolson had four.
“I think if we stuck with a six- or seven-player rotation our offense would be really good,’’ Auriemma said “But, unfortunately, I’m trying to play eight, nine or 10 and it looks ugly at times. And there’s nothing you can do about that. We’re just going to have to weather it out until it gets a little bit better. There’s a big gap between our top five players and our next four or five players. The average person out there doesn’t know that. They think our second five could go to the Final Four. I don’t think our second five could beat a good intramural team here at Connecticut at times with the way they run offense and things. So when you mix and match those people and you’ve got different combinations, and especially if you’re in foul trouble, now all of a sudden you start mixing people up it’s not going to look good.’’
Stewart was a combined 5-of-15 shooting in the two games. Dolson was 9-of-21. Bria Hartley was 4-of-17 (1-of-7 3-pointers).
Sophomore Brianna Banks was the only UConn player to score in double figures against Maryland and Penn State as her hot start continues to gain momentum. She totaled 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting (3-of-5 3-pointers).
“I think right now we’ve got a great situation in that Brianna Banks is just playing with so much confidence,’’ Auriemma said. “She’s playing this game like she knows she’s really good. She knows what she wants to do. She’s just playing. And, hopefully, Moriah (Jefferson) will work herself into that. But you’re only as good as your guards, and our guard play just has to get a little bit better.’’
The Huskies will not play again until facing Oakland Dec. 19 at the XL Center. Their next test will come at No. 1 Stanford Dec. 29.