UConn freshman Saniya Chong.
The Huskies cruised to an exhibition-opening 101-35 win over Gannon on Friday night that included a 45-point first-half lead. And while the victory won't tell us much about the defending champs -- coach Geno Auriemma said "Every one of these [exhibition games] is exactly the same, some just take a little longer to get going" -- it did provide an opportunity for individuals to work on certain aspects of their game.
And for the team's lone member of the freshman recruiting class, Saniya Chong, that means working on becoming a better defender.
“I think that I’m going to get there,” said Chong (via the Hartford Courant), who scored three points in 14 minutes. “I’m just a little nervous getting the hang of it right now. Practice is practice, but games are different. Coming out here in my first game I wanted to take it slow.”
Nerves are expected, but unlike a lot of programs, UConn won't immediately need their latest national high school player of the year to step up once the regular season starts.
“You have to learn how to adjust, particularly with all of these new rules coming in now,” said sophomore Moriah Jefferson said.
“I’ve just tried to help her with it as much as I can by watching what she is doing and reminding her not to do things that might get her into [foul] trouble. But as for [Friday], I can remember how nerve-wracking it was for me to play my first game. And I think she did better than I did last year. On the court, talking to her, she wasn’t as nervous as I suspected. She made some good plays and she got a good layup in. She missed her first free throw and she never misses free throws so that must have been nerves. Other than that, she played well.”
Auriemma, meanwhile, explains the downside to facing a Division II team like Gannon.
"There are many ways to approach these preseason games,” he said. “You can try to just run up and down the floor and win 150-90 and not care about anything. Or you can just try and work on the things we believe we are going to need to do well down the road.
“I believe we play pretty good defense every year around here, so one of the problems we encounter by playing a team like [Gannon] is that they can’t score. It’s difficult to concentrate of what we need to do on offense, as well, because it comes too easily.”
For now, Chong will learn by watching.
“I’ve noticed there eye is always on the ball and they move so quickly,” Chong said of her teammates. “My reaction time is much slower so far. I need to get comfortable with taking the extra step to try and get in front of the ball-handler, or when I approach the ball-handler, figuring out how to stop them from blowing by me. It’s so stressful. But I am working on it. They don’t really kid me a lot about [her early problems]. They just say I have to get better at it.”