Geno Auriemma was not exactly sure that he was right. But he knew he was at least close. And that was plenty good enough for him to get his message across to freshman Saniya Chong recently.
As it turned out, Auriemma was absolutely correct when he informed Chong that she had more fouls than points during the three games in The American tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena. She committed five fouls and scored four points in 32 minutes in wins over Cincinnati, Rutgers and Louisville.
“I don’t know that that’s how you want to be remembered,’’ Auriemma said. “So I think she’s getting the message a little bit.’’
Chong is definitely getting the message. She has proven that she can contribute off the bench. This is the same player that had 16 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes at Penn State Nov. 17.
Her lack of production during this recent stretch has not been easy for her to absorb.
“It really frustrates me because I know I can do better,’’ Chong said. “I was just in a slump, but we’ll see what happens in the future. I have to just obviously work hard. In the last tournament … I haven’t been doing anything. I haven’t done anything for the team. So just coming out here and me practicing I’ve been working extra hard so I could actually at least be a part of the team.’’
Heading into UConn’s NCAA tournament opener against 16th-seeded Prairie View A&M Sunday night at Gampel Pavilion (8; ESPN), Chong is averaging 5.3 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 19.2 minutes in 33 games this season. However, in seven games since registering career-highs of 17 points (7-of-13 FG) and 10 rebounds and adding three assists in 35 minutes against Central Florida Feb. 19, she is averaging 3.0 points (6-of-17 FG), 1.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 14.1 minutes.
Chong played two scoreless minutes in wins over Louisville March 3 and March 10.
“To be honest, I have no clue,’’ Chong said referring to the reason behind her struggles. “I don’t really know, but I just have to get my mind more focused and more straight on just going out there and playing and doing what I do best. I know that all I can do is just show him that I’m able to be out there and actually play and be a part of the team. So I just have to work harder in practice and we’ll see what happens.
“For some reason when I’m on the court I’m not contributing as much. Either way, like my defense or even getting to the rim, I’ve just been out there basically just another person standing out there. So I actually have to contribute and actually do something. Maybe get a teammate open or hit the open shot.’’
Starters Breanna Stewart (19.7), Bria Hartley (16.4), Stefanie Dolson (12.4), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (12.4) and Moriah Jefferson (10.0) are averaging a combined 70.9 points per game for the Huskies, the most by a starting lineup in team history. They account for 85.7 percent of UConn’s average of 82.7, which is second only to the 2010-11 group of Maya Moore (22.8), Tiffany Hayes (13.7), Hartley (12.4), Dolson (10.2) and Kelly Faris (7.8) that accounted for 87.3 percent of UConn’s overall scoring of 76.6.
For those who are wondering, Swin Cash (14.9), Diana Taurasi (14.5), Sue Bird (14.4), Asjha Jones (14.0) and Tamika Williams (10.1) combined for 67.9 points and accounted for 78.0 percent of UConn’s overall scoring of 87.0 in 2001-02.
Chong and fellow reserves Brianna Banks and Kiah Stokes do not have lead the Huskies in scoring. They simply have to provide some production.
Banks has scored six points in 48 minutes over the last six games. Stokes has scored six points in 57 minutes over the last four games, but she does have 21 rebounds and seven blocks in this span.
Auriemma said that he has been pleased with the play of Chong and Banks, in particular, in practice since the end of The American tournament.
“They’ve been better,’’ Auriemma said. “They’ve been better. And that’s basically what I wanted them to be. I just want them to be better. They both made some progress since last Monday. And I hope it carries over. But, having said that, they’ve practiced pretty well for a while now. They just don’t function well in games for large stretches.’’
Said Stewart: “The people coming off the bench have responded really well. I think Coach has been testing them in practice a little bit, and what we’re seeing from them is exactly what we need. They’re players who can come off and really contribute to our game, and continuing to give them confidence can help us win some games.’’