UConn has had one close game this year: it's overtime loss to Stanford back in November. The other 24 games on their schedules have been, by any measure, blowouts. It's not an uncommon phenomenon for a well-coached Geno Auriemma team that also happens to be wildly talented. But all that success means experience in close games against good teams is hard to come by.
But that's what practice is for.
"One of the reasons we go to practice, believe it or not, is for us to find out who we can trust and not trust," Auriemma said, via the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla. "You have two hours every day to pretty much earn the trust of the coaching staff and the other players.
"So we go [to practice] every day and we try to put players into situations that will test them in ways that tell us whether or not a player can be trusted. If you come up big in those situations, we will find a way to get you on the floor in big situations. If I don't think I can trust you, then you are not going to play in those big moments. I told the players that and they know it. If I don't think you can handle the stuff we throw at you in practice, you are not going to play [in games]. Everyone gets the same opportunity."
Auriemma often has male practice players and this year's group is among the best to work with the program.
"It's all about accepting the challenge," said Morgan Tuck, who scored 14 points with eight rebounds in 21 minutes. "The practice players are very hard to play against. They were hitting every shot they tried on Friday. [Auriemma] wants to make sure that we take the challenge they present seriously knowing we aren't going to play anyone [during the season] as athletic as they are. If we can perform against them, we can do it in games."
So far, Auriemma's strategy seems to be working flawlessly.