Wednesday, November 13, 2019

UConn’s sloppy win over California reveals deep vulnerability

UConnONODo not fear the Huskies. At least for now.

No. 4 Connecticut defeated inexperienced California on Sunday, 72-61, in their season opener. But the dejected looks of the only four Husky players to score field goals better reflected the uninspired performance of the team as a whole: the scorers looked somber and embarrassed.

And their feeling were justified. This is not a team ready to compete at a high level.

UConn started its season shooting 2-11, and led the Bears just 5-4 after five and a half minutes. At the end of the first quarter, they had built that lead to a mere 13-10. The teams had shot a combined 8-33, or 26 percent.

By games’ end Megan Walker and Christyn Williams had come alive, scoring 21 and 24 points, respectively. Walker also grabbed 10 boards, while Crystal Dangerfield scored 14 points and Olivia Nelson-Ododa had 11 points and 13 rebounds.

To be fair, the Huskies were getting their shots all game. They ran plays reasonably well early on – particularly for a team whose half-court offense has not matured. But they missed layup after layup. Fortunately for the Storrs faithful, Cal shot even more miserably.

On this day, senior point guard Dangerfield approached coach Geno Auriemma in the second half and told him, “I don’t think we should run any more plays.”

Auriemma recounted asking “Why not?” and receiving the reply, “Because I don’t think anybody knows them.”

The hosts were forced to rely on the one-on-one skills of Williams and Walker, rather than the pass-pass-pass-shoot style that has historically put UConn at the top of the assist rankings.

Auriemma said the game was “weird.” He said it three times before correcting the appellation to “sh**ty.”

In fact, it was dreary, boring basketball by two teams that will need a lot of work. California shot 35.3 percent, Connecticut 41.5 percent. Each team grabbed 43 rebounds.

The Huskies have a bunch of problems, but perhaps the greatest is that Auriemma has no idea who his fifth starter should be. Freshman Anna Makurat, who played professionally in Poland, started both exhibition games. But little-used senior Kyla Irvin started the season opener – the first start of her career. Her entire line in the box score was one rebound and one foul in 11 minutes.

Asked why Makurat did not start, Auriemma said, “I thought Anna would cry if I started her. I thought I’d make her feel a little bit better. She’s been in a little bit of a daze the last couple of days.”

Much is expected of Makurat, who seemed to have more maturity than her 17 years because she had played in an adult league. But thus far, she has seemed overwhelmed by the college game. She played 18 minutes Sunday, scoring one point and adding two each of rebounds, assists and steals.

Freshman Aubrey Griffin participated for just under 19 minutes. She also had a single point (and three missed free throws) to go with two each rebounds, blocks and steals.

The rest of the UConn bench was missing in action. Senior Molly Bent never entered the game. Redshirt senior Batouly Camera is once again out injured, as she has been most of her career. Tennessee transfer Evina Westbrook, the Lady Vols’ leading scorer a year ago and a certain starter on this team, was denied a waiver to play without a year off, and awaits an appeal of that decision. Grad student Evelyn Adebayo, who played last season at Murray State, barely saw action in the exhibitions, and never entered the game.

So right now, the Huskies essentially have four players who can actually contribute, and a bench that managed two points in 37 minutes of play. If this is actually the fourth-best team in the country, women’s basketball is in trouble.

There is a lot going for UConn, too. History says they can’t be this bad for long. Auriemma says that Griffin is the best pure athlete he has coached, including former standout Gabby Williams, who bore that label for four years. But Griffin has had difficulty learning plays and executing them on the court.

Walker has taken a huge step this year, and could be one of the elite scorers in the game by year’s end. She is demanding the ball, and she has a reliable three-point shot. But most importantly, she is scoring on drives, on mid-range pull-ups, and doing so while continuing to rebound above her 6-1 height.

Williams has also accepted that she has to be a primary scorer, and looks as though she is ready to build on the promise, unevenly demonstrated, that she showed last season. She, too, has a reliable three. But her greatest skill is her quickness to the basket. No more than a handful of defenders in the country can stop her from getting into the paint and to the rim. She still seems unconvinced of this herself, but is sure to have it reinforced by her coaches until it becomes a natural part of her offensive game.

Dangerfield came into the season as one of the better point guards in the nation. She can score when she needs to, which will be often this year. But distributing to this team is going to be much more difficult than zipping the ball to Napheesa Collier or Katie Lou Samuelson, who went into the WNBA last summer, for an almost certain score. Dangerfield’s current team lacks both the confidence and variety that has traditionally allowed them to have outstanding spacing, which opened up passing lanes.

Dangerfield is dealing with some great talent, but also talent which may not “know the plays.” It will be an adjustment. Furthermore, she is the lone (contributing) senior, and the only obvious team leader, a burden she will need to carry alone. That in itself can be disturbing even to a player of her ability.

Her ability to handle all these changed roles will have much to say about the Huskies’ final standing in March.

Finally, there is 6-4 sophomore Nelson-Ododa. With a summer of USA basketball behind her, she has shown more confidence, and a willingness (mostly) to be the rim-protector this defense requires. Her development is crucial to UConn’s success or failure.

Auriemma has already said more than one that “Liv is the only player we absolutely have to have on the floor.” There really isn’t another option, with only Irvin – a slower and shorter (6-2) athlete – to substitute for Nelson-Ododa’s in the paint. Griffin’s athleticism can help defend inside, but she is only 6-1, and not yet as strong as the program model for short posts, Gabby Williams.

Makurat has scoring and distributing experience, but it is easy to forget that she turned 18 just this week. She will need to relax into the game if she is to contribute as the coaching staff hopes she can.

The Huskies, of course, have played just one game. But the team looks adrift, which is rare in the Auriemma era. They really need some bench contributions this year, but so far the bench looks as ineffective as it has for the last few seasons.

Auriemma may have one of his greatest coaching challenges if he is to turn this team into a contender. But then again, he’s the best there has ever been in the women’s game, so he could easily succeed.

What is nearly certain is that this UConn team is going to lose some games before the season ends. With a tough non-conference schedule, the losses could come early and often.

The Huskies travel to play Vanderbilt Wednesday.

The season’s first AP top 25 poll

Oregon stays on top, despite not playing a counting game yet. A lot of shifting elsewhere in this week’s poll:

1. Oregon
2. Baylor
3. Stanford
4. UConn
5. Texas A&M
6. South Carolina
7. Oregon State
8. Maryland
9. Louisville
10. Mississippi State
11. UCLA
12. Florida State
13. Kentucky
14. NC State
15. Notre Dame
16. Michigan
17. Miami (Florida)
18. DePaul
19. Arizona State
20. Syracuse
21. Indiana
22. Texas
23. Arkansas
24. Michigan State
25. South Florida

The NCAA has its own top 10 rankings:

1. Oregon
2. Baylor
3. Stanford
4. Texas A&M
5. Connecticut
6. South Carolina
7. Oregon State
8. Mississippi State
9. Maryland
10. UCLA

Coach’s Chair: Tarrell Robinson, North Carolina A&T

North Carolina A&T coach Tarrell Robinson enters his eighth season at the helm of women's basketball at his alma mater. Photo courtesy of NC A&T Athletics.
North Carolina A&T coach Tarrell Robinson enters his eighth season at the helm of women's basketball at his alma mater. Photo courtesy of NC A&T Athletics.
North Carolina A&T coach Tarrell Robinson enters his eighth season at the helm of women’s basketball at his alma mater. Photo courtesy of NC A&T Athletics.

Tarrell Robinson became the women’s basketball coach at his alma mater in 2012. Since then, NC A&T has made four postseason appearances, have had four 20-plus win seasons and have won two MEAC Tournament and regular-season titles. Robinson’s teams specialize in defense and sharing the basketball, and always rank in the top of the conference in scoring defense and assists. The Aggies have also been stellar in the classroom, with many obtaining multiple degrees and the 2015 squad earning a perfect APR score of 1,000.

Robinson was a rebounding standout before graduating from A&T in 2001, after which he was a graduate assistant for the men’s program. He coached two years of high school boy’s basketball before being hired as an assistant coach for the women’s program under Aggie head coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs. After four years he left to take the same position at VCU, working under coach Beth Cunningham. Robinson and his wife are the parents of three children.

What did it mean to you to ascend to your first head coaching job at your alma mater?

It was a blessing. There’s an emotional attachment obviously, and there’s a whole lot of pride in wanting to be successful. Replacing the woman who gave me an opportunity added some pressure as well, but I was ready for the challenge.

It’s a good perspective. I can relate to environmental or culture issues and challenges and can plan ahead. The last two years we’ve stated our season at the same time as our homecoming. The young people need to understand that it’s not about you – it’s about the alumni. We (participated in) homecoming, but we had curfew. All those little things I’m award of and I understand.

You were a graduate assistant for Aggie men’s basketball and a boy’s basketball assistant coach after graduating. What drew you to women’s basketball?

My second year of grad school Saudia Roundtree was the head coach here, and she fired an assistant coach after homecoming. She and I ended up building a decent relationship when she was trying to find a new assistant. Eventually she offered me that opportunity. At the time I had a kid on the way and I was only making $12,000, so taking the job was a no-brainer. When (Cage-Bibbs came) I met (her assistant coach) Camille Adams the first day, and she told me Bibbs was looking for a new assistant. After a 20-minute interview with Bibbs, she hired me on the spot. I’ve been on the women’s side for 16 years, and it’s been a blessing.

You worked for two great coaches in Patricia Cage-Bibbs and Beth Cunningham. What did you take from each of them as you went forward?

Coach Bibbs taught me more so the business side. She really empowered me in terms of planning, as I was responsible for practice prep and scouting, and I was the lead recruiter. When I got to VCU under Beth, she gave me more of the organization of it all. She’s an attention-to-detail person and a map-it-out person, which she got from coach (Muffet) McGraw. When I went to VCU I was the third assistant and I left as associate head. I wanted the opportunity to grow. In my heart, I felt like only way to come back here is if I had more experience. Bibbs gave the confidence, and Beth gave me the tools.

What is your coaching philosophy?

Being disciplined and working hard will cover so many things. I tell our players that in life we shoot for perfection and sometimes we fall short, but what you do in between those times is what’s important. Maybe you didn’t meet that goal today, but if you keep trying, you will. I’ve always had to prove myself before it was given; that’s the way of the world. We tell our young women that these four years are the last time people will invest in you before you have to return it.

If I walked into an A&T practice today, what would I see?

You would see intensity, a lot of communication, and you would see a demand for excellence in everything we do. I tell them we either get it done working on what we’re working on, or we get it done getting in shape.

You emphasize defense, sharing the ball and success in the classroom. Where did those principles come from?

Our promise and our goal when we recruit student athletes is to make sure they get their degree. Everybody says it, but we have to prepare them for life after basketball.

Ostensibly you can have bad offensive night, but you can’t have bad defense because it’s all about discipline and effort. Control what you can control, and (defense) is something we can control all the time. The best teams share the ball, take the best shot and make the best play, regardless of who does it. In the half court, there’s always a right play to make.

What is meaningful to you about coaching at an HBCU?

Being able to impact the lives of African-Americans who might have been overlooked by other schools. We’re in a situation now where we are recruiting young women who are being recruited by other schools. This culture isn’t for everyone – that’s fair to say. But those who don’t get caught up by how it looks to some, and being comfortable in their own school, this environment is for them. I’m adamant, because this university has been so much for me. It’s a mindset.

I remember during a recruiting process years ago, trying to convince somebody. But I grew to know that if you don’t think an HBCU is for you, then it’s not.

What do you want your players to take from their time in your program?

I just want them to feel like they had a great experience and earned everything they got, including that degree. If they can go through our program, then they can meet challenges in life and they will embrace everything they will have coming to them.

How have you changed as a coach over the years?

I’ve got more understanding, and my temperament has changed. Eight years ago I was a young head coach not trying to hear anything but “this is how it’s done.” Now I understand that life happens and things that effect some people doesn’t effect others the same way. Even though I still have expectations and demands, I have to look at their situations; there are different reactions from different environments. Knowing our young women, sometimes they need a little wiggle room and we will get a better response. You have to balance having expectations and standards with treating everyone as individuals.

What do you love most about your job?

Just having been able to impact peoples’ lives. When I made the decision to come here I had two Power 5 opportunities as an assistant coach. Everyone in my circle encouraged me to go to the Power 5, but I wanted to do it my way, set the tone in my own way. I knew the ins and out of how to sell the program, and I knew I’d get a tremendous amount of support. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not we’d be successful, but how. My AD is great: he doesn’t tell me no, he says, “we’ll figure it out.”

What is your own workout like?

I run/walk two miles, then do a full body workout: three sets of both upper body and lower body, and 600 ab (repetitions).

Do you have a six-pack yet?

I’ve got two liters and I’m working on six pack. The last three years I’ve dedicated to transforming my body to getting back into the shape I want to be in. I feel like I cant demand it unless I do it, too. So the entire coaching staff, you’ll see us in the weight room. too.

You seem happy.

In my time here I’ve grown so much as a person, as a father, a mentor, a husband – it’s been great. The last time I enjoyed homecoming as much as I did this month is the year before I took this job.

Things remain interesting on day six

Upset:

No. 8 South Carolina outlasted No. 4 Maryland, 63-54.

More results:

No. 5 UConn got past Cal, 72-61.

Rider knocked off Penn State, 78-70.

Drake stopped Iowa State, 86-81.

Nebraska slipped by Missouri in OT, 90-85.

Missouri State edged Boise State, 72-69. A statement win slipped through the Bronco’s grasp.

Chennedy Carter led No. 6 Texas A&M over Duke, 79-58.

No. 23 Minnesota rebounded from their opening game loss and thumped Vermont, 90-56.

No. 13 Kentucky 67, Middle Tennessee 52

No. 14 NC State 80, UNC Wilmington 40

No. 18 Miami 83, Jackson State 68

No. 24 Indiana 111, Nicholls State 47

No. 25 Michigan 77, Bradley 57

Columbia 70, Fordham 51

Ohio 81, American 69

Princeton 75, George Washington 50

Northern Illinois 74, North Dakota State 68 (OT)

Ohio State 89, Valparaiso 38

St. Louis 60, Cincinnati 50

Colorado 80, NJIT 57

TCU 59, Cornell 49

Rhode Island 68, Hartford 56….first-year coach Tammi Reiss has the Rams off to a 2-0 start

Oklahoma 82, UAB 75

Ole Miss 66, UL Monroe 42

Tulane 64, Washington 62

Florida 71, Longwood 54

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule features some interesting match ups.

College team news:

Oregon preview.

The Gamecocks are getting it right after transfer difficulties.

What we learned from Drake’s win today.

An early-season test awaits the Lady Vols.

Inside the brand Mississippi State built.

Northwestern preview.

Lehigh wants a Patriot League title.

College player news:

Maine standout Blanca Millan is leaving an indelible mark on the program.

College coach news:

Lance White enters his second year at Pitt with hope, and a mostly-new roster.

Oregon takes down National Team, 93-86

Whoa, what just happened? The best college team in America beat the best team in the world.

More on the win.

The win was historic, as a college team hadn’t beaten Team USA since Tennessee did it on Nov. 7, 1999.

Today’s results:

As per usual this time of year, the unranked team results are often more interesting than the ranked……..

South Dakota held off Green Bay, 66-60.

No. 12 Florida State got by LSU, 70-62.

Navy 65, Clemson 52

Rice 66, Little Rock 40

San Diego State 80, Towson 72

Washington State 67, BYU 50

USC 59, Virginia 49

Belmont 72, UCF 37

No. 10 Mississippi State 91, Southern Miss 58

No. 11 UCLA 74, LMU 52

All results

Tomorrow’s game schedule

Tennessee at Notre Dame preview

College team news:

Indiana aims for a 2-0 start.

Nebraska is hoping for consistency early in the season.

Iowa State is aiming for consistency before their match up with Drake.

College player news:

Olivia Nelson-Ododa has added new dimensions to her game.

Two years in the making, Chanel Wilson is “blessed” to check in for Indiana.

WNBA news:

Finally healthy, Jamierra Faulkner is rediscovering her swag in Russia.

Big news flowing

Today’s results:

No. 24 Indiana 75, Mount St. Mary’s 52

North Carolina 92, Western Carolina 55

Portland 70, Utah State 64

Georgia 80, Kennesaw State 65

Tennessee 63, Central Arkansas 36

Rhode Island 79, Long Island University 56

West Virginia 74, St. Francis (PA) 45

Xavier 70, Utah 63

Iowa 85, Florida Atlantic 53

Iowa State 69, Southern 36

Marquette 92, St. Francis (BKN) 71

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

Wade Trophy watch list:

So many good candidates.

College team news:

The competition for UConn’s fifth starting spot is just beginning.

Full Husky update.

With such a deep roster, who gets the start for Indiana?

Key observations from Central Michigan’s opener.

Attendance and aptitude show Arizona could be for real.

Can BYU get back to the Tournament without their leading scorer?

Northwestern can rely on Veronica Burton this season. The Wildcats have high hopes for the season.

Communication will be the key to success for Purdue.

Cal will face Harvard in their season opener.

College player news:

Tiana Magankahia is cancer-free after surgery.

Notre Dame post Mikayla Vaughn is out 4-6 weeks with a knee sprain.

West Virginia has reinstated Tynice Martin from suspension.

Gonzaga’s Jill Townsend is fired up after a long recovery.

Mikayla Pivec diary.

Baptism by fire as freshmen could benefit this year’s sophomores at Oklahoma.

Aliyah Boston made a statement last night.

College coach news:

Lisa Bluder: 20 years of making leaders at Iowa.

Harry Perretta’s 42nd and last season opener still means straight talk.

Kellie Harper is just what the Lady Vols need.

USC will retire Virginia coach Tina Thompson’s jersey Saturday.

Love and basketball prevails for year and miles for Alabama State coaches.

Former Northwestern coach Tangela Smith reflects on her coaching career.

USA Basketball news:

USA powered past Texas A&M, 93-63. Chennedy Carter scored 34 points for the Aggies – a new record for a college player against the National Team.

International news:

Alyssa Thomas remains hot overseas after her scorching WNBA Finals performances.

Bonus:

Cappie Pondexter is here to inspire the next generation, and keep things cool.

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