The Huskies improved to 29-0 on Tuesday after another convincing victory, this time against SMU. And has been the case in recent games, they did it without Morgan Tuck and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Tuck's season ended in January with a knee injury and Mosqueda-Lewis has been sidelined in recent weeks with mono.
It was all enough to make coach Geno Auriemma skeptical, at least at this point in the proceedings.
If you’re telling me right now that we’re a way better team than the one that won the national championship last year I would tell you we’re not,” the coach said recently. “You can’t take Kelly Faris, Kaleena Lewis, and Morgan Tuck out of our lineup and replace them with Saniya Chong and say, ‘You guys are way better than what you were last year.’ That’s not the case. We’re not. That doesn’t mean we can’t win it. That doesn’t mean when Kaleena comes back that we’re going to be lucky to win it. I don’t mean that. Given the two people that aren’t playing, we’re not as good of a team as we were last year in March."
That's a fair assessment. And with Mosqueda-Lewis still sidelined (though she could return this week), Auriemma isn't yet willing to concede that this group is better than the one that won a title a year ago.
“People say you have the best starting 5 in America. Well, we don’t,” Auriemma said. “Right now we have the best starting 4. And we don’t have the best bench. So we need to play hard … We need to play with energy and a certain sense [of urgency]."
Point guard Moriah Jefferson conceded that it's tough playing with a thin bench, particularly when the schedule has them traveling halfway across the country for a game.
“Maybe we felt a little tired in the first half [Tuesday],” Jefferson said of the SMU matchup. “That’s going to happen on the end of a long road trip. You try to push and your legs take a while to get under you. But we will be fine. We did it last year [to win the national championship]. We will do it again.”
And while Auriemma hasn't been that forthright about his team's chances, no one (including Geno) would be surprised if they repeated.
“This is the time of year when those who have most invested in your team start to play great every night,” he said. “They know that have a limited number of games left. Bria (Hartley) and Stefanie (Dolson) are going to be there every night. They are not going to have bad days, mental lapses. They don’t get themselves into any kind of a funk. When you are a senior at UConn you don’t do that, it’s not who you are. But the other players, it’s human nature for it to happen.
“They are consistent, which is the best thing you can say about any player. They are the same; you don’t get tremendous highs are lows. You get pretty consistent play.”
And if Mosqueda-Lewis returns?
"Can we win, do we have the players and make-up to win?," Auriemma asked before offering up his own answer. "Yes. But so do three or four other teams. But if Kaleena doesn’t come back and we have exactly who we have today I would tell you that our chances would not be as great as they were when we played Stanford [earlier in the season].”