There is always a point to the drills Geno Auriemma employs during practice. Even drills when UConn play 5-on-0.
That’s how the Huskies ended practice today. They had a make 10 passes before scoring and were alone on the court. Auriemma a mixed in a sets of players after a score, and the drill ran until he was content with what he had witnessed.
Why run a drill without defense? Here’s why …
“The stuff that we do offensively with no defense, that’s hard to do,’’ Auriemma said. “Believe it or not, it’s easier to run offense when you’re playing 5-on-5 than it is playing 5-on-0. But the best teams I’ve ever had were really, really, really sharp and really good at running our stuff with no defense. We could do it for a half hour sometimes with that 2002 team or Rebecca (Lobo’s) team, teams that have been together for a while, Maya (Moore) her junior year maybe. Because it’s hard because you have to have an imagination. Because when you’re playing 5-on-5 that guy guarding you is going to dictate what you’re doing. Well, if there isn’t a guy guarding you, if you’re not careful you have a tendency to go … and you’ll catch it and throw a pass (lackadaisical) and then you go, `Wait a minute, you know you just hit the guy guarding you in the face with a pass.’
“So it makes every cut they make, every pass they throw, everything they do it leaves a lot to their imagination, which kind of basketball is. You see something that you might do like right now. Instead of, `Oh, yeah, I should’ve done that.’ So it’s something I’ve always done with my teams and some teams are better at it than others. And Stefanie (Dolson) and (Breanna Stewart) are really, really, good at this. Really good. Saniya Chong is really good at it. It tests your instincts. It really brings out, `Do you have any and how good are they?’ But it takes a while, especially when you’re trying to mix some upperclassmen … So this year it’s not bad because there’s only one freshman, who happens to be really good at it. Really good.’’
Fresh off a six-day road trip to Central and Memphis that was mired by travel problems., Auriemma is looking for the Huskies to make improvements in practice this week. And offensive execution, perimeter defense and the contributions of the reserves are areas of concentration.
“I think the pros probably struggle with this more than college teams, but when you’re on the road a lot it’s just difficult to find the time to practice the kind of things that you want to get better at,’’ Auriemma said. “And even now we had a day off yesterday so you’re here the day before the game and there’s only so many things that you can do. But I think this week we’re going to have a chance to get a lot better at some things that I want us to get better at. In shootaround tomorrow, at then the game and then a couple of really good practices Thursday and Friday. Again, next Sunday’s like going to be kind of a throwaway day because you play Saturday and you play Monday and you’re really limited and what tends to suffer is usually your offensive execution.
“I watched us play, obviously, and studying our games. And you certainly don’t want to be quick to anoint us the greatest team in the history of college basketball. I think there’s probably 12 guys, 13 guys on the board (in the Huskies of Honor) that would vehemently disagree with that statement. And I’ll tell you one area where you see it is how many kind of quality shots guards get against us. And that’s no Kelly Faris. So you said, `Well, where were you going to miss Kelly?’ We’re going to miss Kelly because in every game in the scouting report there was never a question … We never had to meet as coaches and go, `OK, who’s going to guard Odyssey Sims or who’s going to guard anybody? Who’s going to guard Kayla McBride or who’s going to guard Shoni Schimmel?’ It doesn’t matter. We already know who’s going to guard her. Now it’s more of a, `Let’s have a meeting and let’s see what are we willing to give up, what are we willing to suffer through?’ So that’s one area where we have to get better. We’ve got to find in our perimeter players a better defensive mindset.
“And, No. 2, I think the thing you always want to get better at is what are the contributions going to be from your guys on the bench? I think it’s crucial that we don’t have two teams, that we don’t have five guys who are starters and play well together and are great and then a group that comes off the bench that struggles. I think we have to find a way to make sure that those four guys that are not starters are contributing and are productive. And not just for our team. We’re going to be OK. I just want them to get better. I’m interested in their improvement.’’