UConn stands at 19-1 (6-1 Big East) heading into Saturday’s game at St. John’s. Their only blemish is a 73-72 loss to chief rival Notre Dame Jan. 5.
There is plenty that the Huskies are happy about at this point, and the latest Division I statistics provide evidence why. They are ranked first in scoring offense (82.5), scoring defense (46.6), field goal percentage defense (.302) and scoring margin (plus-36.0), second in assists (21.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.52), fourth in rebounding margin (11.8) and fifth in made 3-pointers per game (8.9).
Individually, Stefanie Dolson leads the nation in field goal percentage (.612). Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis leads in 3-point shooting percentage (.508). And Kelly Faris is sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.72).
“I think (things) are going well for us right now,’’ Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I think we’re getting there. It’s just a little bit more that we’ve got to do. It’s February and Coach (Geno Auriemma) is saying that by the time February comes we want to be a different team than we were in January, in December. We want to make sure that we’re taking steps forward. So I think that we’re doing that. We’re being more aggressive on the boards I think that’s one thing that we really had to improve on and we’re taking steps forward.’’
Said senior Kelly Faris: “We’re at a good point right now. We’ve definitely continued to build from the Duke game (a 79-49 win Jan. 21). There’s still going to be little things that are habits that we’re still going to continue to try to break all the way to the very end of the season. It’s things that aren’t going to be fixed in one day, and sometimes it’s hard for us to wrap our mind around because we want to fix it. Coach gets mad at something, we want to fix it. But right now, I think we’re in a good spot. And hopefully we can just continue to build on it and not let down.’’
One area where the Huskies will look to improve is the play of the reserves. They have been largely inconsistent throughout the season, averaging a combined 26.1 points per game.
Freshman Breanna Stewart, who stepped into the role of sixth-man Dec. 19 against Oakland, has been the most consistent source of production off the bench for the Huskies. She is second on the team in scoring (14.5) and first in rebounding (7.0) in 22.1 minutes.
UConn’s other primary reserves – sophomores Brianna Banks and Kiah Stokes and freshmen Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck – have accounted for 18.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists in 60.7 minutes.
“You want your bench to give you as much as possible,’’ junior All-American Bria Hartley said. “So I think you always push them to give more. You’re forcing them to improve or just telling them they need to improve or just stay on them. I think everyone on this team wants to get better each day. So you’re telling people on the bench that you want more from them, you want them to improve, you want them to come out every day and be better than they were the day before. So I think you always want more from your bench.’’
Said Auriemma: “That group that we have in the starting lineup, I don’t have any issues with. So I would say our bench has to develop into really, really reliable players that offensively can give us something as the season winds down. They’ve got to be able to be productive. We’ve got to know exactly what we’re going to get when we put those guys in the game.’’
Auriemma pointed out this week during a film session that the reserves have been outscored 46-22 over a combined stretch of 27:55 at Marquette Jan. 12, at Cincinnati Jan. 26 and against Villanova Tuesday. They suffered through scoreless stretches of 5:41 and 3:19 against the Bearcats and 6:05 against the Golden Eagles.
Their play lately has left the reserves with a feeling that they are letting the team down.
“I know our starters, they don’t want to play 40 minutes,’’ Stokes said. “They probably want to, but it’s going to be harder on their bodies. They might not be able to function for the whole 40 minutes. I know for a fact Stefanie wants more help down low. For her to play 40 minutes is a lot to ask of her, and then to come back and practice the next day I know it’s tough on her. So, me personally, I want to do this for her just to help her out and also to help myself out. I haven’t had the results that I wanted and I want it to start. You’ve got to start somewhere so why not today.’’