Lost amid an undefeated run through the Big East to go along with yet another regular-season conference title is that the 2010-2011 UConn women's basketball team did it with new faces and few reserves.
As UConn was putting the finishing touches on a 16-0 conference record Monday night, they had to do it with eight players -- four of them freshmen. And that won't change as they prepare for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.
That prompted head coach Geno Auriemma to offer this observation Monday: “There are times when we look like, how does this team win any games?” Auriemma said via the New York Times. “Let’s put it this way: nothing surprises me, but I would be surprised. How could you not be?”
When asked about the Huskies' chances at an eighth national championship Auriemma was blunt. “It would shock me.”
Given UConn's track record, it's hard to take Auriemma seriously. If anything, you might mark it up as a tactical ploy, another example of a coach playing the well-worn "nobody expects us to win" card as a means to motivate the troops.
Or maybe Auriemma's concerns are legit. “If someone got hurt or we get a couple guys in foul trouble and they can’t finish a game, we just don’t have enough.”
That's a fair point. It's one thing to beat Seton Hall and Syracuse with a short bench. It's something else entirely to pull it off against Baylor, Stanford or Tennessee. Particularly when two freshmen -- point guard Bria Hartley and center Stefanie Dolson -- could face weighty expectations as the Huskies make their way through the tournament.
“We’re asking them to play 30 minutes every night and be really good,” Auriemma told the Times. “That’s asking a lot with no margin for error. Ninety percent of the time, it’s not an issue. Ten percent of the time, it is because you can’t give your players a breather when they’re playing poorly. The fatigue and wear and tear mentally is almost worse than physically.”
The mitigating factor through all this? Maya Moore, UConn's all-everything playmaker. As Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman put it after Monday night's loss to the Huskies, “During tournament play I think it comes down to who has the best player and (Auriemma) has the best player. When you get into these tournament games, there are going to be some close games and nobody is going to be able to stop Maya. And that is the key when you look at good basketball teams.”